Six months after the government claimed that they would delete unregistered mobile phone lines, the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) said they are gearing up to make good on that promise after the March 27 deadline expires; with the exception of the upcoming Khmer New Year that would disrupt their ability to reimpose a law that has existed since 2012.
Telecom operators had previously been given two three-month extensions since last September’s announcement. Im Vutha, director of the regulation and dispute unit at the TRC, said that time is now up, no more extensions would be given, and that he hoped that providers had complied with the law.
“This is the last time. After this we will go check the [operators] to see if they have followed the law. And if the company or operator cannot show that they registered their customers, or if they have not cancelled them already, we will tell them to announce that they will be cancelled,” he said.
Despite the original four-year old law that requires identification to purchase a SIM card – a law meant to manage the transaction and usage of telecommunications – Vutha said that fierce competition within the market previously made it impossible to implement oversight.
The registration crackdown stems from concerns raised by the National Police last year that claimed that new measures need to be in place to combat terrorists, drug traffickers, extortionists, kidnappers and other criminals that exploit mobile and SIM anonymity.
Sereroth, a student at a local university, recounted how a Facebook friend tried to lure her into a mobile scam. After exchanging numerous messages over the social platform with a man who promised that he would send her gifts and money that totaled $15,000, she gave out her phone number.
Weeks later, she received a call from someone claiming that she needed to pay $1,500 to get her package cleared through customs.
“I told them I don’t have that much money right now,” she said, adding that after a lot of negotiations, the caller agreed to settle for $400 to be wired through mobile money transfer service. However, when she contacted the customs office directly, she realized it was a ploy.
“I don’t think they would’ve found the person behind this because they used an [unregistered] number,” she said, explaining that she blocked the number after repeated calls. “Most people trying to con others are unregistered and can simply destroy the SIM card after they harass somebody.”
A February 29 announcement by the TRC called on telco operators to inform their customers of the impending cancellation of subscriptions by reaching out to them through phone calls, text messages, social media messages, and information on their websites of how to properly register.
Ian Watson, CEO of Cellcard, said that since September, the company has stepped up measures to inform their customers about the need to register. The company has sent out SMS texts, run a pop-up notification on their website, and sent out Interactive Voice Response (IVR) messages to non-registered subscribers.
“Almost the entire subscriber base is already registered, but unfortunately not all customers see the benefits and threats of SIM registration. Cellcard keeps trying to touch base with all of them through indirect and direct communication channels to help them complete their registration process as stipulated by the law,” he wrote in an email.
Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart Axiata, said that the company was in full support of the government’s push for registration “for the purpose of national security and subscriber protection”.
“Smart requests prepaid subscribers to check their profiles and to register or update if not done yet, either online under simreg.smart.com.kh or by visiting any Smart Shop, to avoid numbers being barred and service affected,” he wrote in an email.
The owner of Pheanu Rangsey, a phone shop and SIM card dealer near the Olympic Stadium, said that he is aware of the law after local commune officials warned him of the impending crackdown, and only sells registered SIM cards now – averaging four or five a day.
“Sometimes people only buy the SIM card to access the Internet, so they don’t believe they need to register, or they do not have proper identification,” he said. “If their numbers are cancelled, it is their own fault.”
Vutha admitted that registration can be difficult as people generally have numerous SIM cards and lack proper identification cards. For this, he said, as long as a commune official or family member can vouch for a person’s identity, it would suffice for registration purposes. This, however, would still be problematic in practice.
“On our side, it will take some time to check all the names of the subscribers. Especially when making sure they are properly registered in Khmer, or if they are changing names of the subscribers during registration,” he said.
The National Police initially speculated that up to 70 per cent of the Kingdom’s 20.9 million SIM cards did not have adequate verification. Vutha believes that from the data that he has compiled over numerous meetings with industry stakeholders, this percentage has dropped.
Nevertheless, he said that the crackdown is about to begin and there will be legal consequences for infractions – just not yet.
“After Khmer New Year, we will go and start looking at the telcos’ data to make sure they have followed the law. We have given them plenty of time. It will take time for us to prepare a task force to address this issue. But it will happen sometime in April,” he said.