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ISLAMABAD: Cellular mobile operators (CMOs) have failed to reach an agreement/ consensus on SIM disowning charge and have not developed/ provided any mechanism for addressing concerns of genuine consumers in case of illegal SIM issuance, says the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

The CMOs had initially agreed with the PTA’s suggestion that one-time waiver may be allowed to customers for disowning their SIMs. Later on, the same was not agreed by Jazz, Telenor, and Zong. However, the authority is of the view that consumers should be given the facility of one-time free disowning of their SIM.

Official documents of the authority noted that it is a fact that significant resources and cost (SIM acquisition cost, NADRA verification cost, etc) are involved in the process of SIM sale to customers through Biometric Verification System (BVS) and the same has increased owing to the current economic situation and increase in operational expenditures.

Although the PTA has deregulated SIM connection price but due to competition, CMOs are unable to recover SIM cost.

Another phenomenon which was observed is that some consumers willingly or unwillingly handover SIMs to illegal sources for monetary gains and exploit free disowning SIM facility by returning the SIM after they are identified and acquire new SIM of other operator for the same activity. Thus, they are involved in abusing new customer acquisition offers which are offered to new consumers for sale of SIM.

Telecom industry begins issuing SIMs through ‘MBVS’

There were instances where free disowning of SIM phenomena were exploited by grey traffickers/ fraudsters as they were able to get new SIMs after disowning of old SIMs, which were used in grey traffic/ frauds.

After holding of consultation with operators, it has been observed that there is no agreement/ consensus among CMOs on SIM disowning charge.

Moreover, CMOs have not developed/ provided any mechanism for addressing concerns of genuine consumers, e.g., in case of illegal SIM issuance on the CNIC of a customer, etc., the burden of disowning charges will be borne by that customer which is not justified.

Authority intends to seek comments/ feedback from concerned stakeholders including telecom consumers, consumer groups and the general public regarding the implementation of SIM disowning charge. The Authority has sought feedback that whether CMOs should be allowed to levy SIM disowning charge? If yes, should the PTA determine price floor, as well as, price ceiling for SIM disowning? PTA proposes price ceiling of Rs200 for SIM disowning without determining price floor. It asked whether one-time waiver may be allowed to facilitate consumers for disowning their SIMs.

Should SIM disowning charge be waived in case of SIM retention period of more than six months? Whether CMOs be obligated to carry out public/ awareness campaigns wherein status of registered SIMs against each CNIC shall be transmitted/ communicated to the consumers to facilitate one-time disowning of SIMs free of charge? Whether Cellular Mobile Operators be mandated to develop proper mechanism for SIM disowning?

In August 2022, Telenor on its own implemented/ introduced disowning charge @ Rs200 per SIM and posted notices on its website. However, after directions by PTA, Telenor discontinued SIM disowning charge and no consumer was charged. Recently, Telenor has approached PTA to re-visit the Authority’s Determination regarding implementation of SIM disowning charge. On 21st September 2022, PTA conducted a consultation session with Jazz, Telenor, Zong, and Ufone, wherein, representatives of all CMOs were requested to submit written feedback/ comments on SIM disowning charges.

The CMOs were also directed to provide framework/ mechanism for addressing genuine concerns of the complainants along with proposed price for SIM disowning. Jazz stated that SIM disowning charge should be uniform across all customers, considering that genuineness of the consumer cannot be determined. Jazz suggested price ceiling of Rs500 as SIM disowning charge.

Telenor proposed minimum charge of Rs300 on all SIM disowning activities without exception. Zong requested a de-regulated approach with a price ceiling of Rs300 and recommended that these charges should be applicable to all customers. Ufone argued that consultation on SIM disowning charge and framework/ mechanism for addressing genuine concerns of complainants may be deferred till the implementation/ maturity of the Multi-Finger Biometric Verification System (MFBVS) and its impact analysis. In order to further deliberate on the issue, a subsequent consultative meeting was held with CMOs on 14th November 2022.

During the meeting, Jazz, Telenor, and Zong proposed that the PTA should determine price floor and price ceiling for SIM disowning and suggested price floor and price ceiling in the range of Rs200 to Rs500 respectively. Ufone only agreed on setting price ceiling by the PTA but opposed the determination of price floor for SIM disowning.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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