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Doubts over effectiveness of mobile switch-off

By - | Oct 3rd 2012 | 4 min read

Three different media houses reported three different sets of figures of non-genuine handsets switched off yesterday.

For one it was close to a million, for another it was just past the millionth mark, and yet another the figure was just around two million handsets.

While the three institutions peopled with hawk-eyed journalists following a hot topic like switching off of fake handsets rarely all get it wrong, the disparity in the figures points to lack of co-ordination by the Communications Commission of Kenya.

The differences in the numbers switched off and whether it is the correct way to go about the issue of non-genuine handsets played out in the open when representatives from each mobile service provider congregated on KTN’s Sunrise Business yesterday morning.

One service provider blatantly stated that it was the right thing to do, but using the wrong model.

 The other said that the state –here read as CCK – was taking handset manufacturers’ war to the doorsteps and at the costs of mobile phone service providers and the ordinary citizenry who are not to blame for the issue.

And, true to what this editorial had forecast earlier, the Communications Commission of Kenya may have just bitten more than it will chew.

This has led to  questions dotting the entire exercise: Will the switching off of non-genuine handsets result in another flop just as the mobile number portability sometime awhile back or the current tussle over reducing inter-connection rates? Did CCK –  despite several warnings – consolidate all the views and seek the best way forward in addressing the issue of fake handsets? Will the exercise address the issue of non-genuine handsets once and for all?

Lastly, what is the big bluff with non-genuine handsets when like medicine there are generic versions of the handsets all over Africa?

There are unconfirmed reports that mobile phone operators have been shocked at the presence of one IMEI number that has been reported 10,000 times. It is obvious that there is something amiss.

 If not the discontent among the public over who to punish for fake handsets, or the hue and cry that the blame lies squarely on CCK, Kenya Bureau of Standards, and the anti-counterfeit agency who have kept a very tight lip, then it is the insistence of CCK that seems to have sold out the project.

While the exercise gets under way, it is interesting for example that the anti-counterfeit agency has not raided any of the places where non-genuine handsets are sold.

 The agency, which many blame for the current exercise, also has not made a single arrest of somebody importing or selling fake phones.

 In addition to that, Kenya Bureau of Statistics has neither condemned, nor supported nor issued any statement over an issue that squarely falls under its docket.

The whole exercise was structured such that it is the mobile phone companies to actually do the switching off of the fake handsets. But how would a mobile company that stands to lose billions of shillings a month undertake such an exercise without hesitation?

There is talk that the Government has agreed to handout some incentives for every phone the companies switch off.

So far in the public domain, it is not clear what the incentive is, and whether it would be at a cost to the taxpayer, or even if the customer who loses his handset would be compensated.

Taking it slow

As Kenyans ponder over these pertinent issues, it is important to understand that mobile phone companies have expressed intent to switch off the phones in batches of ten or 20,000 over weeks, or even months. With that acknowledgement alone, it is clear that the very institutions, which are mandated to carry out the exercise, are already on a go-slow for economic reasons.

It is also important to note also that even with an ever-present social media, almost nobody has authoritatively reported their phones were found ‘fake’ and switched off – raising doubts over the actual number so far disconnected. But which ever way it goes, no country, except South Africa, has ever tried what Kenya is attempting.

 Even for South Africa, the exercise was a flop and an embarrassment to the authorities.

Here is free advice to CCK: Non-genuine handsets are not welcome and must be switched off.

 The secret, however, lies in approaching the problem boldly, involving all the concerned bodies, including the affected consumers and laying out an elaborate plan of execution.

 It will be an embarrassment and a loss to the taxpayer to start on a wrong footing and accomplish almost nothing.

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