Interception law could cost cellular operators R300m

Cellphone network providers could spend more than R300 million to implement the law that requires them to register all prepaid customers in a bid to curb organised crime.

MTN, Vodacom and Cell C will have to register more than 30 million prepaid customers within 12 months, as required by the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (Rica). The law will enable the government to intercept phone calls if criminal activities are suspected.

MTN Group, Africa’s largest cellular company, said the proposed law would cost it R100 million to implement.

"It will most probably be impossible to do," Maanda Manyatshe, the managing director of MTN’s South Africa unit, said yesterday.

Vodacom Group spokesperson Dot Field said Vodacom had so far spent R170 million, which included the establishment of an interception centre that all three network providers have to implement.

Cell C, which has about 3 million subscribers, did not reveal how much it expected to spend on implementing the requirements of Rica but said the process was "costly".

"However, irrespective of the cost, we will support and implement the data capture process once it is finalised," it said.

The new law requires cellphone subscribers to produce their identity document and proof of residence to register. Failure to register will see their telephone services terminated.

Vodacom Group chief executive Alan Knott-Craig said recently that 20 million prepaid users could be barred from cellular networks in South Africa under the new law.

Manyatshe said last month that MTN South Africa would have to register 8 000 subscribers an hour to meet the deadline. MTN has more than 10 million subscribers in South Africa.

Although the government was aiming for more people to use cellphones, the new law worked against this objective, Manyatshe said.

Knott-Craig said the unbanked portion of the population, which numbers between 10 million and 15 million people, were going to find it impossible to provide the information required by the Rica legislation.

"These are people who, by and large, live in informal settlements and villages, and work in the informal sector. Unless this proposed legislation is amended, the law is going to compel cellphone operators to disconnect these people with devastating effects to their lives."

MTN, Vodacom and Cell C asked parliament this week for a three-year extension to complete the registration process.

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Source:  Business Report

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Interception law could cost cellular operators R300m