Rica you later

HAVE you completed your Rica registration yet? If you're a South African cellphone user and answered no (or huh?) to that question, then you're destined to be disconnected at the end of this year. But you'd have to carry on paying off your contract, unless it's expiring at the same time.

Your service provider, whether Vodacom, MTN, Cell C or Virgin Mobile, must have a valid copy of your ID and a proof of residence or disconnect you, according to the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act.

The company 8ta is an exception, since it has only been connecting new customers after the date at which Rica became a necessity for activating new SIM cards. The rest face cutting off multitude subscribers. And they're making sure you know that.

Because if they do need to cut you off, they will lose you as a customer and face having you turn to one of their competitors instead. The process of actually cutting you off is going to be messy too.

In the case of a disconnected contract the subscriber is the party in breach, not having met their obligation to register. They should, therefore, continue to service the contract despite the cellular service no longer being active.

Vodacom customers who have not yet complied with Rica - the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Act - have told Fin24 that they are being repeatedly contacted by the company, via SMS and phone calls, compelling them to register. Vodacom is even giving away R7m in cash prizes to people who make the deadline.

As the biggest cellular operator in SA in terms of subscribers, Vodacom has more to lose when the Rica deadline expires than its competitors. Its South African customer base declined by 3.1 million in July when the operator had to conform to changes regarding the classification of call-forward SIM cards in the legislation, and Vodacom doesn't want to have to cut off active subscribers.

MTN is familiar with legislation like Rica from its operations in other countries. The company has had to cut off millions of subscribers in Sudan when they failed to comply with similar legislation.

Not only that, but other operators in the country did not conform and ex-MTN subscribers fled to the competition. Despite knowing what's coming - or perhaps because of it - MTN is making less of a fuss about Rica from what we can tell.

Rica is a bit of a joke. The legislation was designed with reducing crime as a goal. It is similar to Fica - the financial intelligence centre act - that requires banks to have positive identity and proof of residence for account holders. In theory Rica should reduce fraud and make anonymous use of a cellular connection impossible. In practice. all it does is cause headaches for operators and pain for consumers.

One analyst, who wishes not to be named, told me that his company has found numerous cases of individuals registering many SIM cards using fake identity documents and then selling them.

Rica apparently does not place a limit on how many SIM cards an individual can register, leaving a large and exploitable loophole.

But for the larger cellular companies it means slowed growth figures and the possibility of major churn when disgruntled customers get disconnected at the end of the year and use the opportunity to try out the likes of Cell C and 8ta.

If you're one of those disgruntled customers already, then withholding your Rica documents might be pretty satisfying. Your operator will have to boot you whether they want to or not - and they definitely don't.

It's going to be a painful and, in my opinion, unnecessary process. Rica is not fair on the operators - whether you like them or not - and has already failed at meeting its required objectives.

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