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Watchdog threatens to sue over fake phones

By - | July 19th 2012
By - | July 19th 2012

By Macharia Kamau

A consumer watchdog is threatening to go to court to stop the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) and local mobile operators from switching off counterfeit handsets.

The watchdog says there are glaring omissions in the process , which is against consumers’ constitutional rights. The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) said the industry regulator had failed in its approach and would contest the process based on the procedures taken. 

CCK has set September 30 as the deadline to switch off or deny service to users of counterfeit handsets .This means that an estimated 2.4 million subscribers currently using counterfeit handsets should have acquired genuine phones.

It is the third time the regulator has tried to have operators deny services to holders of counterfeit phones. CCK says it has a legal backing and will not backtrack. Stephen Mutoro, secretary-general Cofek said the lobby would contest the process in courts based on the procedure that CCK has taken.

“We are watching and note that there have been certain moves made that might be unconstitutional... if things go on the way they have been going on, we will contest the move in court based on the procedure,” he said. “We are not disputing the need for security... we are not opposed to efforts to fight crime but the manner in which the process is being undertaken is punitive to consumers. There has been minimal consultation with consumers.”

He said the State has a responsibility to protect consumers from counterfeits  by ensuring imports are safe. “Counterfeiting is more serious than we are being made to think... the Government cannot allow porous borders and unscrupulous business people to continue selling counterfeits and then punish the innocent consumers” he said.

“Mobile service providers also have existing unwritten contract to provide uninterrupted service, not on the basis of the phone device one holds, but either on a pre or post-paid arrangement.” There are also arguments  the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number that CCK will rely on to switch off phones is not fool proof and some holders of genuine cell phones might end up suffering.

CCK expects to use a database by the Global Satellite for Mobile Communications (GSM) Association that has all IMEI numbers of GSM phones manufactured by their members.  “Technology is contestable and there have been holes poked in the IMEI,” said Mutoro.

Industry experts note not all handset manufacturers are members of the GSM Association. They say while some phones are genuine, their IMEI numbers might not be in the GSMA data base or are modelled on other technologies like the cable division multiple access accepted in Kenya.

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