THE INDICATION by Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik before Eid-ul-Fitr of the governments considering banning the pre-paid SIMs in the country and then saying only unregistered SIMs could be blocked, fearing militant elements can use these SIMs for subversive activities, and terming successful the blockade of cell phone services on the Eid especially in the cities like Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Quetta has not only sprung a wave of extreme surprise for telecom experts but also incurred over Rs 2.6 billion revenue loss to the cell phone companies during Eid days only – the rush days of exchanging Eid greetings especially through SMS. In a country like Pakistan, where the population is now 118 million with exactly 118 million cell phone users, the blockade of pre-paid SIMs is, of course, next to impossible as no country in the world would allow the business slaughter of this magnitude. Only one million of the 118 million cell phone users are estimated to be post-paid users, means if the proposed ban is slapped, all the five cell phone operators would be running their operations for only one million consumers. About 80 per cent of all mobile phone SIMs are issued on prepaid accounts and according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, nearly two million of these SIMs were issued on fake documents. It would nothing but axing billions of dollars floating in the country in addition to hundred of thousands of jobs that keep millions of kitchens running. This, too, triggers serious concerns when the telecom companies denied having any intimation about the possible blockade of pre-paid SIMs sans holding consultations with them in advance. Such approach is just like putting the cart before the horse. No doubt that a large number of unregistered or unverified SIMs were issued during the last couple of years increasing chances of their usage by the militant elements for terror operations, but considering blocking pre-paid SIMs wont be a wise solution any way. PTA has employed various options including 789 system, 668, end to pre-activated SIMs and so on to curb illegal sale of SIMs, but those helped only with the registration of new SIMs. This critical situation demands of the government to come up with a viable and practicable solution. The telecom watchdog PTA should first update its record on 668 and must ban only unregistered or unverified SIMs. It also needs to compare the data of registered SIMs through 668 and 789 with telecom operators and strictly block the un-registered SIMs. In fact, the slackness is on the part of the national telecom authority regarding the spread of unregistered SIMs in the country. So this would be absolutely unwise to punish the cellular companies and their consumes as well for the wrong done by others.

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