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State makes U-turn in the ban on SIM hawking

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A mobile subscriber holds a new SIM card. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The government is set to reverse a ban on SIM card hawking under proposed amendments to the Kenya Information and Communications Act (KICA) Act.

The draft changes, if adopted, will allow the agents of telecommunication providers to sell SIM cards to customers from any point, provided the subscriber number being sold is duly registered.

Current provisions bar the hawking of SIM cards by agents, requiring them to sell and register subscribers through formal retail outlets or face tough sanctions from the industry’s regulator.

The new clause contained in the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2023, however, deletes this provision, replacing it with one that says “A registration agent shall duly register subscriber number being sold.”

The ban on SIM hawking was introduced by the Communication Authority (CA) to curb fraudulent registrations that abet criminal activity. 

Read: MPs ask regulator to postpone October sim card deactivation

The regulations imposed fines of Sh300,000 or a six-month jail term, or both for the street sales of SIMs.

The U-turn is expected to offer respite for hundreds of telecoms agents who are tasked with netting new subscribers on behalf of the operators.

Leading telecommunication operators including Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya had for long relied on SIM hawking to grow their subscriber bases before the tough regulations were put in place.

The change in tune comes just months after telecommunication providers regularised their SIM registration database in a fresh exercise completed in October last year.

Following the end of the exercise on October 15, the CA handed operators a further 60-day grace period to enforce compliance with the SIM registration directive.

At this point, Safaricom and Airtel had reported a 93 and 81.3 percent compliance rate respectively according to CA disclosures.

While the number of mobile/SIM subscriptions dropped in the initial phase of the fresh registration exercise, the subscriptions rose by 0.4 percent in three months to December 2022 to 65.74 million from 65.46 million subscriptions in September.

Safaricom has maintained the lion’s share of subscriptions at 43.16 million ahead of rivals Airtel and Telkom.

Telecommunications operators and their respective agents are required to ensure the proper registration of the subscriber prior to the selling of a SIM card and ensure that the details are kept in a secure and confidential manner.

The Act further prescribes duties to SIM owners being liable for the activities or transactions carried out using the card in their name.

Nevertheless, the subscriber cannot be held liable if they can prove that they were not in control of the SIM –card at the time a particular activity was carried out.

Subscribers found culpable of providing false information to operators or agents face fines of up to Sh100,000 or a jail term of up to six months.

Read: CA grants 60-day grace period for Sim card deactivation

At present, ICT Cabinet Secretary in consultation with the CA is allowed to make regulations with respect to the procedure for SIM registration. The draft amendments nevertheless propose to scrap this provision.

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