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Will NICTA’s SIM card plan de-register millions of phone users?

Cell phone towerBUSA JEREMIAH WENOGO | PNG Informal Economist

PORT MORESBY – Of late, NICTA, Papua New Guinea’s National Information & Communications Technology Authority, amplified its calls for phone owners to register their SIM cards or face de-activation.

One particular aspect of this that baffled me was how NICTA would deal with rural phone users.

Thanks largely to Digicel’s widespread installation of towers many folk in the rural areas of PNGare now able to communicate with relatives and friends living in other parts of the country.

This has significantly changed the lives of many Papua New Guineans. It has happened slowly but has been profound in its consequences.

For most communities the road to connectivity started out as a faint signal only reachable on the highest mountains or from the tallest trees. In fact many communities in PNG that are still out of cotact.

But for them scaling a peak or climbing a tall tree are worth the pain and sweat if they are able to hear the voice of their loved ones. I’ve been there myself and know the feeling which many Papua New Guineans share. It's a great feeling.

I remember the days when we gave envelopes and parcels to a friend or relative departing our village to pass on to the recipient and then waited for months -sometimes years - for a reply. If we were lucky the package reached its destination.

At times of critical news to do with deaths, births or major life events passed through multiple people and many days to reach its destination. I recall those days well enough to say that the introduction of mobile phones was a major breakthrough; a much needed intervention.

Now I’m afraid that those dreadful days are about to resurface with the de-activation of thousands if not millions of SIM cards.

While urban phone users have multiple options available to them to register SIM cards, the millions-strong rural majority will be caught by surprise if NICTA does not find a way to register their SIM cards.

More awareness is needed in rural areas to ensure that as many users as possible register their SIM cards. It will be unjust and unfair if rural phone users miss out – and of course this will also affect their families and relatives living in urban areas who will be unable to contact them.

There are options for NICTA to register rural phone users. They could work with government agencies such as councils, district administrations and provincial governments to assist with registration.

The much talked about national identification card project, if done properly, would be a huge help to this process. But, of course, it as never been implemented.

NICTA could also explore electronic or online registration of phones; much like how survey questions are delivered digitally through phones. This would allow registration to be done without the need for NICTA or other authorities to be physically present.

The short wave radio service will be crucial in communicating information to rural folk. In its absence it's great to see Digicel widely disseminating NICTA's announcement to the masses but the challenge for most rural people is that the venues for registration are in urban centres.

For mobile phone companies such as Digicel, the loss of rural phone users will mean the loss of a significant chunk of their revenue.

Research indicates that most rural people use phones for calling and social media like Facebook and less for texts. These time intensive uses mean more money to Digicel and BeMobile.

NICTA now needs to clarify to the public how it plans to address the SIM card registration issue and level with us about what measures and strategies are in place to address this concern.


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John K Kamasua

Baffling, confusing and utterly inconvenient for rural phone users. That's Ok send them back to the stone age while those in urban centres are making a dash to have their phones registered under their names.

Like the NID project, this one will also to serve its purpose!

Peter Kranz

NICTA is governed by the 2004 International Telecoms Union (ITU) Radio Regulations. This is the international treaty which governs the allocations of radio spectrum and has the force of international law - to make sure for example that radio broadcasts don't interfere with military search and rescue.

They have changed their name (they used to be the PNG Telecoms Authority), but they are the ones who hold the ultimate power.

I had a few 'interesting discussions' with them about satellite internet to break Telekom PNG's monopoly which seem to have born fruit.

They were previously known as PANGTEL and have a good web site.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This looks very much like Big Brother at work.

It also looks like a reactionary effort from the O’Neill government to control what is published on social media.

The objective of SIM Card registration appears fairly innocent and useful but once you pry into the details it gets decidedly suspicious.

Here is what the Regulations says: “The objective of this Regulation is to provide a regulatory framework for the registration of all SIM Card users, and for the control, administration, and management of the Subscriber Information Database”.

It’s that Subscriber Information Database that is most worrisome. The information going on to it includes “the subscribers photo, name, date of birth, gender, address (postal and/or physical address), email address, etc. and details of valid identification documents of the subscriber”.

They want to know where you live and your email address; they also want a photograph of you. The obvious question is why?

That’s when it gets even murkier.

The reasons they give on the official NICTA website are to “help law enforcing agencies to identify SIM card owners; track criminals using phones for illegal activities; curb other negative incidents such as loss of phone through theft, nuisance/hate text messages, fraud, threats or inciting violence, and help service providers know their customers better”.

With regard to the confidentiality of the information NICTA says “Your personal information will be kept confidential by the service provider in a secure data base. Your information shall NOT be disclosed to any person unless authorised in writing by law enforcing agencies or court of law.”

That last bit is the killer, the cops and the courts can authorise disclosure. Handy if you have the Police Commissioner and/or the Chief Justice in your pocket.

As of today there is a week left to register your SIM.

According to Digicel you have to “visit a SIM registration point closest to you. Remember to bring your ID along. Fill in a form and submit it to the agent.

The agent will then capture a few details and take a picture of:
The form
The ID (Passport, NID, Driver's License, Work ID)
The individual.

It is a regulatory requirement. We must have some form of ID and we have made the list of applicable IDs as wide as possible. If you do not have an ID, a letter from a reputable person will suffice. We are unable to provide a SIM card without an ID or letter”.

Alright, you are one of the 4 in 10 people in PNG with a mobile phone. You live in a village on the Yuat River near where it meets the Central Range.

You are about 120 kilometres south of your nearest Digicel agent in Wewak.

Assuming you’ve actually heard of the new regulation and have got a driver’s licence or some other form of identification how are you going to get down there to register your SIM?

If you don’t your SIM could be de-registered and you’ll lose your service.

Makes for an interesting time I think.

Lindsay F Bond

Deep in the earliest year of this decade, there came to be a brighter star heralding ‘self-directing content delivery’ which is supposedly a boon if not the salvation of inquisitiveness among humans on planet Earth. Gatherings of appreciation yielded prophesy that it will be good if “merging of mass communication outlets – print, television, radio, the Internet along with portable and interactive technologies through various digital media platforms”.
...says Higgins,
Quantification physics brought this revelation to bureaucratic central business district and behold, IT was found to be in need of a census. So each Meri and Joe of the land is invited to make a mark sim-ingly in devout allegiance with amassed principle.
Local bi-archy of Di and Be are towering on, rejoicing folk voicing communication while roaming.
Constant governance abeying, now awaking for ‘an efficient ICT sector’, so ‘ensuring industry compliance’, seeks to be closely with stakeholders. Is this for ‘self-directing content delivery’?
In a digit signalling environment, perhaps NICTA might expound on its ‘make’ where its intent is "Making ICT services work in Papua New Guinea's public interest"

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