Donwald Pressly

The top three cellular network providers reported yesterday that they had spent more than R1 billion on authentication subscribers under the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (Rica).

Meanwhile, the government has acknowledged that there is a problem involving retailers, probably small players, who are registering SIM cards in their names to sell on illegally to people who are unable to pass the required tests.

The required test in terms of Rica legislation is that people need to provide proof of residence and personal identity documents, which would mean that criminals are being sold – “for R30 or so” – SIM cards that have supposedly been registered under Rica.

Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel and Deputy Communications Minister Obed Bapela were unable to quantify the problem, but it could notch up to hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

On the other hand, the top three providers said they had well over 95 percent registration under Rica for contract holders and prepaid clients. Recent entrants Virgin Mobile and Telkom’s 8.ta have reported 100 percent compliance.

July 1 was the deadline for SIM cards used in cellphones, 3G data cards and other computer communication systems to comply with the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act of 2002.

Nel said that Cell C had 99.99 percent of contracts and 97 percent of prepaid subscribers registered.

He reported that MTN was in second place – if one excludes the newcomers to the industry – with 99.5 percent of contracts and 97 percent of prepaid subscribers registered, and in third place was Vodacom with 98.98 percent and 95.12 percent, respectively.

MTN spokesman Robert Matsonga said his company had spent R250 million on Rica marketing. He believed this was good spending because MTN now had a far better knowledge of its client base.

Cell C spokesman Mothibi Ramusi said the company had spent R300m to R400m, while Vodacom’s Vuyani Jarana said his company had spent hundreds of millions of rand.

Collectively the big three had spent R1bn or more. This raises the figure to about double that previously reported by the big companies.

Nel said “it would seem” that in some instances “persons have bought large quantities of SIM cards that are Rica-ed in their own names. These individuals then sell these SIM cards without complying with… the act.”

This was not a loophole, it was simply a case of people breaking the law, he said.

Bapela said the cellular service providers would be consulted on the size of the problem. Possible action taken against the illegals would be cutting off the service or taking legal action against them.

Nel noted that the service providers could be fined R100 000 for each day on which they broke the law while an individual could be liable on conviction to a maximum fine of R60 000 or to imprisonment for a period “not exceeding 12 months”.

About 50 million SIM cards have been registered in terms of the Rica legislation.

There is no limit to the number of SIM cards that can be registered for Rica in any one person’s name. However, that person is not allowed to sell on one of his SIM cards without the recipient carrying out the required authentication procedures.