Unregistered SIM cards in Kenya will be deactivated by April 15 as the government steps up the fight against crime and improve data accuracy.
Communications Authority (CA) has already ordered all mobile network operators to speed up the data cleanup exercise, adding that no more time will be added.
This is the third time in a decade the regulator is coming up with a switch-off deadline after a similar attempt in 2012 and 2018.
According to the authority, mobile operators and subscribers have had enough time to conduct the cleanup exercise as per their request in 2018.
”This has been an ongoing process over the last few years, the planned switch-off follows audit that has unearthed loopholes in adherence to SIM card registration laws by mobile network operators,” the authority said.
The regulator urged mostly subscribers with SIM cards more than 10 years to visit their providers to update their data. It, however, indicated that most operators have recorded impressive compliance in the past four years.
“There is no need to protect consumers and the general public from criminal elements who exploit a lacuna in SIM registration. Many people have fallen prey to fraudsters,” CA said in a statement.
The data cleanup exercise in 2012 saw 80 per cent of SIM cards registered with six million that had not been properly documented blocked.
The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) (now CA) accused some operators of the laxity because of differing interests.
Telkom Kenya and YuMobile (no longer in operation) had the most to lose with estimates at the time indicating that unregistered SIM cards comprised 36.2 per cent and 27.2 per cent of their total subscribers respectively.
The Kenya Information and Communications Regulations (Registration of SIM cards), 2015 outlaw the hawking of SIM cards with such an offense attract a fine of up to Sh500, 000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.
In addition, subscribers must appear in person and provide correct information. Providing incorrect information is an offense that attracts a fine of Sh100,000 or imprisonment for six (6) months or both.
However, it is now believed that a growing number of mobile users are obtaining new SIMs but are not presenting them for proper record keeping, the harsh penalty notwithstanding.
An audit by CA revealed that a large number of SIM cards are either still unregistered, partly registered, improperly or unprocedural registered and fraudulently registered while others were registered against multiple owners.
The regulator did not reveal the number of SIM cards that are yet to be documented properly.
Figures from CA show that as of September 30, last year, the number of active mobile subscriptions (SIM Cards) stood at 64.9 million, marking an increase of 0.78 per cent down from 3. 9 per cent increase recorded three months earlier.
According to the data, about 59 million mobile phone devices were connected to mobile networks in the country.
The quarterly sector statistics report showed that 33 million were feature phones while 26 million were smartphones, putting the penetration levels at 67.9 per cent and 53.4 per cent respectively.
The report covering July-September 2021 also shows that the number of mobile money subscriptions reduced by 0.2 per cent, attributed to an increase in inactive SIM cards as a result of subscribers defaulting mobile money loans.
“This is attributed to the increase in the number of mobile loan defaulters whose SIM cards remained inactive during the reference period,” notes the report.