LAHORE, Nov 15: The telecom operators complain that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has not taken them on board for the decision to stop selling SIMs at service centres, franchises and retail shops in the country after Nov 30.

Talking to Dawn on Thursday some officials of the five telecom operators – Mobilink, Ufone, Telenor, Zong and Warid - expressed their serious concern over the PTA directive, saying they were handed over the new directive without consultation.

“Yes, we are too concerned about the security matters related to misuse of SIMs but this has to be addressed by the regulator (PTA) and operators jointly. But unfortunately the role of the regulator in this case is not more than a ‘postmaster’ as it is blindly passing on the directives of the interior ministry (to operators) without deliberations,” an official of a leading cellular company said.

He said now who would be responsible for denying employment to about 400,000 people engaged with the franchises and retailers of five cellular companies. “Have we together (operators and regulator) discussed this and other related issues before going to implement the new policy regime,” he questioned and said the PTA should not have succumbed to the pressure of the interior ministry without evaluating the implications for the industry.

According to the cellular industry data, the operators have 1,850 franchises and 196,000 retailers in the country. Each franchise and retailer has seven to eight and at least two employees, respectively, affecting 404,950 people directly due to this order.

“The removal of the sale channel will also adversely lead to layoffs within cellular companies. Hundreds of customer care centres in which thousands of highly educated individuals are employed by the cellular companies and all three channels of sales and distribution will also be affected,” he said, adding billions of rupees investment made by franchise owners would be at stake as their ROI (Return on Investment) was going to decline substantially.

New SIMs delivery system

The government has directed all operators to ensure delivery of new SIM through postal or courier service. A customer will no longer be able to buy a new SIM, he or she will only be allowed to order SIM from the operator’s customer service office and the same will be delivered at the residential address.

On delivery, the verification of the subscriber will be done via CNIC, utility bill or a driving licence in the presence of the individual who visited the service centre.

Citing ground realities, the operators argue that a vast majority of Pakistanis do not have permanent or valid addresses on their CNICs. “A large number of people do not have driving licences either. In most villages there are no addresses, people do not have utility connections, hence they will not be able to get SIM,” says a representative of another cellular company.

“Similarly, many people do not have utility bills in their names. For instance, a tenant in a rented accommodation may not be able to verify his identity against his/her CNIC.”

He says people living in their own houses where ownership may be in grand-parents name (according to documentation), may not be able to verify the SIM custodianship. The people also live at the residences of their relatives. He further argues the errors in utility bills address system will not restrict completely a person to acquire a SIM.

“Courier services do not have complete network across the country especially far-flung areas. Due to the conservative nature of our society no one will allow the females in their families to accept SIMs at their residences,” he says and adds if an individual is working in a different city and SIM is delivered to another at his permanent address how will he get SIM issued to his name.

Alternative ways suggested

The representatives of the operators Dawn spoke to suggested that new system should entail that every individual should bring a passport size photograph at the companies franchise or customer service centre.

“The customer should sign an affidavit that he/she takes complete responsibility and accepts any act that may be performed with that number, thus people will adhere to the 668 system and ensure that SIMs are used by themselves,” one of the representatives said.

“The cellular operators have a limited number of company owned service centres, hence individuals will have to travel long distances to book a number. The SIM verification system 789 should continue alongside it also be made mandatory for subscribers to visit franchise and authorised retailers shop for purchasing SIM.”

He has also suggested monitoring of selling points through PTA authorised shops (franchises, retailers and customer service centres). “These should be verified and assigned a licence through PTA. The regulator may charge a yearly fee for licencing of these centres. The PTA may monitor these outlets directly and may have the direct authority to cancel or regulate them. SIMs should only be made available at the ‘PTA authorised shops’ and such a model is in vogue in pharmacy business.”

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