Government shuts down SIM sales and MNP

15 Nov 2012

Acting under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has banned mobile number portability (MNP) with immediate effect, and the sale of SIMs from store fronts or franchises from 1 December citing security concerns, Pakistan Today reports. Both the prohibition of SIM sales and the cessation of MNP are extensions of long-running efforts by authorities to curb illegal distribution of SIMs and their use in criminal activities. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister expressed the government’s concerns that cellular services were being misused by anti-state elements and instructed the PTA to ‘revisit the whole system and ensure that all SIM cards being used on stolen identity shall be blocked.’ Further, the government is drafting new legislation regarding the misuse of electronic equipment.

By eliminating operators’ existing sale channels, the government hopes to gain greater control over the handling of SIM cards. Under a new system, the purchase of any SIM will require a customer to present their Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) and utility bills as proof of identity. The sale would then need to be approved by the National Database and Regulation Authority (NADRA) and the issued SIM would be then delivered to the customer’s CNIC address only. Pro Pakistan notes that the termination of SIM sales could cause hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis to lose their jobs as retailers and franchisees are left without business from 1 December.

As previously noted by CommsUpdate, the Interior Ministry has taken ever-greater interest in the telecommunications industry, and its interference in the sector has sparked outrage from consumers and operators. Earlier this year, the ministry ordered temporary service blackouts in certain areas during religious festivals. Cellcos were ordered to close down during the Eid Al-Adha celebrations – the third such blackout in six months – on the back of a ‘vague alert’ issued by Interior Minister Rehman Malik citing terrorism concerns. The disruption during a traditionally busy period led to the loss of ‘billions of rupees’ for operators.