Zimbabwean telecommunications companies are rushing to avoid MTN’s [JSE:MTN] regulatory compliance mistakes in Nigeria, with Econet Wireless reportedly disconnecting 1 million unregistered users in the past week and other operators offering to disconnect “fraudulent-looking” mobile money accounts.
The Nigerian Communications Commission has imposed a hefty R74.8bn fine on MTN for failing to meet a deadline to disconnect about 5.1 million subscribers who were not registered as demanded by regulations. The fine has catapulted MTN into a tailspin, with CEO Sifiso Dabengwa resigning and shares in the company tumbling to a 24% loss of value.
There are now fears that the action by Nigerian authorities could be replicated in other telecom markets in Africa, with Zimbabwean operators now taking measures to speedily address regulatory issues. The country has about 11.8 million registered users, says the telecom regulatory authority.
Econet Wireless is the biggest player with around 9 million users, according to its half-year report released in October. Telecel Zimbabwe and NetOne have about 2.5 million and 3 million users respectively.
Mobile money agents have complained of scams involving fake accounts and wallets registered using stolen identity cards.
“Companies are in a rush to regulate lax registration processes because there have been warnings before that they disconnect unregistered subscribers. Unregistered SIM cards may be used for crime and other vices,” said an official, who declined to be named.
The Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe has previously issued directives for telecom companies to disconnect unregistered subscribers. It said there had been “an upsurge in the number of offensive and abusive calls and text messages generated from unregistered SIM cards” in the country, hence issuance of the directive.
Econet Wireless spokesperson Lovemore Nyatsine confirmed that his company had disconnected unregistered users, but declined to comment on reports that as many as 1 million had been disconnected.
He was quoted by Zimbabwean state media earlier on Monday as saying disconnections carried out by the telecom company were in line with regulations requiring companies to cut off unregistered users. Zimbabwe’s ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira was not immediately reachable for comment.
“Econet has and continues to ensure that its customers are registered on the network and that their details are correct and up to date. Where we identify customer details not complying with our validation exercises, we are mandated to deactivate them after all efforts have been taken to ensure that they comply,” Nyatsine was quoted as saying.
Telecel has previously asked its subscribers to register or risk being disconnected. Experts said the disconnections would affect revenue generation by telecom companies in the country.
The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe said in a recent report that “members of the public are warned against buying or selling activated lines as, in the event that the line is abused, it is the registered subscriber who will be held to account and answerable” for any offences committed using the line.