RURA clarifies new simcard regulations

A person inserts a sim-card in his mobile phone. Nadege Imbabazi.

On Thursday last week, mobile phone users received a text message from  Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority (RURA) notifying them on changes in sim-card ownership regulations.

According to the utility regulator, beginning January 31, 2019, nationals and foreign residents will be allowed a maximum of three sim-cards on each network bringing the maximum one can hold to six—three on MTN and three on Airtel.

Foreign passport holders will only be allowed one sim card on each network.

The changes in sim-card ownership regulations will, among other things, improve digital identities via sim-cards, RURA says.

The new regulations will, however, have exemptions for specific cases such as parents with children under the age of 18 and would like to acquire sim-cards on behalf of their children.

The move will also exempt corporates and businesses who would like to have multiple sim-cards for their operations and employees.

Applications for exemptions will be reviewed by RURA on a case by case basis but can be made through the respective telcos.

George Kwizera, the Director of ICT Scarce Resources Management and Management at RURA, said that the changes have been occasioned by challenges and follow consultations with stakeholders.

Among those consulted were telcos, Rwanda Investigation Bureau, and National Identification Agency.

Among the challenges that triggered the changes include instances whereby sim-cards are registered to different people other than their users.

This, RURA says, hampers investigations by Rwanda Investigation Bureau whereby they cannot track crimes committed by the holders of the various sim-cards as they are registered to other people.

“It is very common to find over 10 sim-cards registered under one’s identity card without their knowledge. This is partly due to the ease of acquiring the sim-cards as some networks give them for free,” Kwizera said.

This influences criminal investigations and tracking of offenders.

Among the crimes that are often committed due to challenges in sim-card ownership include fraud such as coning people to send money, impersonation, threats, blackmail, and sim-boxing.

The crimes are likely to be easier to investigate in coming days under the new rules.

On January 31, those who will not have deactivated extra sim-cards beyond the allowed capacity will experience the loss of services and functionality in some of their lines.

Kwizera explained that for one with more than three lines, they will consider aspects such as the one with the least activity, call traffic, airtime balance and mobile money usage.

The one with the least activity will be shut down in phases such as the inability to make calls, inability to make, financial transactions.

The Central Bank is tasked to ensure that no funds held in mobile money accounts will be lost in the process.

The directive will potentially bring down the percentages of phone penetration which is currently estimated at 9,640,236 as at the end of November 2018.