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SIM card registration drive stalling

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A person sorts out SIM cards at a phone shop in central Phnom Penh yesterday. Pha Lina

SIM card registration drive stalling

One month after the government announced a crackdown on unregistered mobile phone lines, retailers are still selling SIM cards without the required identification documents, and the major telecom companies have done little to curtail the practice.

“I heard about the stricter regulations, but I’m still selling SIM cards without collecting ID because the telecom companies have not informed me of any policy changes yet,” said Prak Sophea, a sales clerk at TTN Phone Shop, who was offering unregistered SIM cards yesterday of the three leading mobile companies for $2 each.

In a joint press conference on September 22, officials from the National Police and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications warned that they would begin enforcing a 2012 directive that requires retailers to collect identification documents before selling mobile phone SIM cards to customers.

National Police deputy chief Chhay Sinarith said the crackdown aimed at curtailing criminal and terrorist activities, estimating that nearly 70 per cent of the Kingdom’s 20 million SIM cards had no identity attached to them.

He said retailers caught selling unregistered SIM cards would be shut down or arrested, and ordered telecom firms to ensure that their existing subscribers registered their ID documents within three months, or terminate their numbers.

While the telecom businesses vowed to cooperate with the directive and reign in their distributors, many SIM card retailers say it is business as usual.

Buth Sothear, an employee at Sothoeun Mobile Services Center in Phnom Penh, said she continues to sell SIM cards without the required paperwork, and continues to receive fresh stock of SIMs from Smart, Metfone and Cellcard.

Sothear said it was unfair to blame retailers as the telecom companies control the activation of services, and if they really wanted to prevent customers from using unregistered SIMs they would require the customer’s ID to be on file before activating the number.

“The telecom companies are blaming the SIM card retailers [for selling unregistered SIMs] but we can only do this because the SIMs they provide us are working numbers,” she said.

“In addition, these companies are giving out free SIM cards to customers without requiring ID registration.”

Mobile operator Smart continues to offer free SIM cards to passengers on flights bound for Cambodia, while Metfone advertises free SIMs to arriving passengers at the country’s international airports. A Smart representative said the company’s free SIMs must be registered within three days of first use or the line will be automatically disconnected.

Existing mobile subscribers of the two networks say they have not received any notification from the mobile companies requiring them to submit their ID documents, and expressed doubt that it would ever be enforced.

Som Sineth, a Smart subscriber, said she has used her unregistered SIM for nearly four years and had never received a request for identity information.

“I don’t care if they block or delete my number,” she said. “If they do, I’ll just buy another SIM. They’re so cheap anyway.”

Ly Meng Tour, a 23-year-old mobile phone vendor, said he bought his Metfone SIM about a year ago for $1 and had not registered it – nor was he planning to.

“I had an ID card at the time, but the SIM card vendor didn’t ask for it,” he said. “I don’t really care.”

Im Vutha, director of regulation and dispute at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said the ministry notified all of the telecom operators of their responsibility to collect the identity information of their subscribers.

“We did not hear anything back from the telecom operators,” he said. “But we don’t want to bother them and we’re giving them time to work with their customers. We will take action after the [three-month] deadline.”

He said the mobile operators have known of the requirement to collect documents at the point-of-sale since 2012, but have largely ignored it because they have been locked in heated competition for subscribers.

Smart and Cellcard did not respond to interview requests yesterday. Metfone could not be reached for comment.

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