SIM registration in Philippines needs more public feedback, support

Summary:Lawmakers in the Philippines are again pushing for SIM registration, but the local telcos have yet to get behind the idea citing logistical hurdles and privacy issues.

As of the last estimates, the number of mobile phone subscribers in the Philippines is expected to overtake its actual population of over 96 million people. Some estimates even peg the number to breach the 100-million mark by the end of the year.

This is not surprising considering that mobile phone uptake in the country has been on the upswing, due to key reasons including low price points of mobile devices, "unli" or bucket pricing of mobile phone plans, retail or prepaid services, and other appealing service packages.

The growing number of mobile subscribers eventually stirred a number of lawmakers to propose a law calling for a registration of the ubiquitous subscriber identity module or SIM.

In the Philippines, one can buy a SIM card for under US$1 and load it up with prepaid credits which are also very inexpensive.

One key argument that supporters say is that SIM registration will curb "illegal activities" and discourage unscrupulous individuals from using mobile phones in various scams via SMS.

Lawmakers supporting SIM registration also cited the dangers of untraceable SIM cards that can be used as triggering devices for bombs.

The idea behind SIM registration is to regulate the sale of SIM cards via a registry of subscribers that local telecommunications companies will have to have to essentially keep track of all the SIM cards that are being sold.

If enacted into a law, SIM registration will compel buyers of SIM cards to register their SIM cards to the mobile phone companies within a given timeframe. Failure to register will be enough ground for the mobile phone company to suspend its services to the user.

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The mobile phone firms in turn, are expected to enforce registration or they might face heavy fines.

Local telcos however have voiced their opposition on the proposed SIM registration law citing the proposed law as a "negative factor" that will impact the citizen's "rights to communicate".

In a position paper, the telcos also said it will be a logistical nightmare to facilitate the registration of the millions of prepaid phone users in the country, considering that until now, the Philippines has yet to have a reliable ID system.

SIM registration will not deter criminal acts, the telcos added.

There seems to be a need for the public to get in on the discussions on SIM card registration since the proposed law will impact them the most. However, there seems to be no comprehensive survey yet on how subscribers feel, particularly those who go for prepaid plans. Prepaid users far outnumber post-paid users at a ratio of approximately 10 to 1.

In the meantime, it seems SIM registration will be on hold until further studies of the concept, done by both sides, have been made.

Topics: Telcos, Government : Asia, Legal, Philippines

About

Joel has been a media practitioner since 1996, starting off as a reporter and eventually becoming editor of a pioneering IT trade newspaper in Manila. He is currently one of the content producers of a Manila-based developmental website.

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