Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has warned Airtel Malawi that it risks monetary fine, licence suspension or a warning for failing to deactivate about one million unregistered numbers after the subscriber identity module (SIM) registration deadline.
In an interview yesterday, Macra deputy director for consumer affairs Thoko Chimbe said the regulator’s monitoring system on Monday discovered that Airtel still had active unregistered numbers while TNM plc had deactivated the same by mid-day on October 1 2018, hours after the September 30 deadline.
She said: “We had set some proxy unregistered numbers for both Airtel and TNM. All our TNM proxy numbers were deactivated while Airtel were still in operation.”
Chimbe, a lawyer by profession, also said Macra monitored the traffic volumes of the two mobile phone network operators.
She said: “On Friday, Airtel had informed us that their system would not manage to register all the SIM cards before the deadline, saying they would manage to register all the SIM cards by October 9 2018.
“By failing to deactivate the unregistered numbers, Airtel has defied lawful orders and contravened the Communications Act.”
Chimbe said besides the alleged violation of the Act, the operator would also face a charge of unfair business conduct by continuing to generate revenue out of the unregistered numbers that were supposed to be disconnected.
Under Section 92, the Communications Act requires every person who uses a SIM card or generic number to have it registered by the communications licensee or with the distributor, agent or dealer of the electronic communications licensee, authorised to provide or sell generic numbers or SIM cards.
Chimbe said by Friday last week, there were about two million unregistered SIM cards for both providers.
She said Macra board will meet to discuss the violations and come up with the punitive measures to be meted out to Airtel Malawi for the violation.
“This is the first of its kind for a service provider to make this serious violation. We have to listen to what they will say in defence and the gravity of the offence will determine the kind of punishment to apply,” said Chimbe.
Pressed on possible charges, she said Airtel, among other things, risks monetary fine, licence suspension or warning, depending on the defence the company will provide.
But in a written response, Airtel Malawi communications and CSR manager Nora Chavula said the operator was yet to submit a deactivation report to Macra.
She said: “As Airtel, we validate every registration done by retailers and agents at our back office to ensure that we register customers in a way that is compliant with the law. This validation process took longer to complete because of the backlog that developed due to huge customer turnout in the final 10 days before the deadline.
“However, we have speeded up closure and have started the process of deactivating unregistered subscribers. A report on the same will be shared as soon as the exercise is completed probably by the 3rd of October [today].”
Chavula said unregistered subscribers will be deactivated from the network and would not be able to call, receive or use any service on the network.
In a separate interview, TNM chief officer (sales and marketing) Daniel Makata said the Malawi Stock Exchange-listed integrated information and communications technology and mobile operator disconnected about 25 percent of its subscribers.
“As of September 30, we had registered 75 percent of our subscribers and we disconnected the remaining 25 percent,” he said.
“We really wish we had not disconnected anyone. It was not in our interest to disconnect the 25 percent of our customers, but we had to follow the law.”
Makata said registration for the deregistered 25 out of every 100 was continuing and the company hopes to finish the exercise at the end of this week.
During a news conference later yesterday, Makata said TNM has employed over 2 500 people nationwide to continue with the exercise.
Macra executed the statutory mandate under the Communications Act in January this year to mitigate against phone-perpetrated crimes where cyber criminals use unregistered SIM cards to trick and swindle innocent people out of their hard-earned money.
However, the exercise was disrupted by a Ministry of Information and Communications Technology order that suspended the process allegedly due to lack of awareness. The exercise was later resumed.