In April, keen to beat the May 15 mobile phone number validation deadline set by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), a journalist walked into an MTN service outlet and presented his national Identity Card.
His details were captured and his ID was verified as provisioned by the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), before he left.
Later, he received a text message that his personal details had been confirmed. However, two days later, he received another message asking him to validate his user details before the deadline elapsed.
When he queried the text alert, MTN staff assured him that his personal details had been confirmed and that he was not at risk of disconnection.
But on May 16, his phone number was blocked from making calls and sending SMS texts. More visits to MTN service outlets produced no results. He was on May 18 told his problem would be rectified in 24 hours, but still nothing came through.
Frustrated, the journalist walked into downtown Kampala on May 20 and found a small mobile money dealer who promised to fix the problem within 24 hours for Shs5,000. And true to the dealer’s word, it was fixed.
The journalist’s woes, resulting in his choice of the black market, are a testament to the inefficiency, low investment in and a trial-and-error approach to mobile phone number validation by the UCC.
But the journalist is not alone.
“My number was partly blocked because I failed to validate it. I applied to NIRA for a national ID sometime back but I am yet to receive it. Every time I inquire about my application, they refer me to a different office,” said Shafic Matende, another affected user.
In a phone interview yesterday, Mr Gilbert Kadilo, the NIRA spokesman, dismissed the 24 hours wait claims, saying when subscriber’s details are captured the Simcard is validated in real-time.
He noted that subscribers who have lost or have applied for new national IDs and obtained a National Identification Number (NIN) are issued with a letter of confirmation, which they can use to validate their Simcards.
“Verification is real time. There is no 24 hours, [or] three hours. It is real-time. The moment your ID is placed against the card reader and the card is confirmed you should be served there and then,” he said.
UCC spokesman Ibrahim Bbosa, yesterday told Daily Monitor they needed to thoroughly investigate the black market claim to find out if it had any merit.
“This claim needs to be investigated. Unless someone is saying that our systems have been hacked, this is not possible. There could be something else. No report has been sent to police, to the telecoms or to the regulator [UCC]. We shall task our enforcement teams to find out if there is any merit in the claims. Right now it is just hearsay,” he said.
UCC set a deadline for telecommunications firms to fix loopholes in the registration data, but little attention has been paid to the customer challenges. As a result, cases have emerged of mobile phone users who validated their personal details in time but got disconnected after the official deadline.
Some telecoms pointing accusing fingers at UCC’s trial-and-error approach which has exposed technical failures in regulatory actions, service provider loopholes and signs of compliance fatigue.
“UCC keeps issuing new requirements and changing compliance timelines,” said a senior manager at one of the telecoms who requested anonymity.
“For example, a two-year compliance period for new customer registration and validation standards was suddenly cut to three months. Deployment of new software systems is difficult because they take about three months to achieve high efficiency levels after clearing computer bugs. I believe the failure by [some telecom’s] systems to validate some subscriber data is because of such bugs,” he said.
Government says the validation exercise is targeted at mobile phone users with missing facial and thumbprint images in their SIM card registration files and those who have more than one mobile number registered in their names.
Reasons for validating simcards
In a notice issued at the close of May, UCC noted that a meeting held on April 2 had discussed measures of how to integrate different data, among which was a requirement for the immediate update and align Simcard registration information.
UCC said it had noted eight cases that need to be rectified through the verification exercise.
Among the cases were subscribers with unknown numbers registered against their NINs, Simcards registered with both names and NIN of a known person but not the Simcard holder, Simcards registered with a subscribers name but NIN is of another known person and Simcards registered with a subscriber’s name but NIN is of a known but unavailable person.