SA privacy law hits MTN and Vodacom subscriber numbers

Legislation in South Africa designed to track mobile phone users involved in the commissioning of a crime has had a negative impact on mobile penetration figures. Vodacom and MTN have said they have suffered subscriber losses since the new law was brought in - mainly because users are required to present identity documents they don't have, and rural mobile outlets have found it hard to record their details.

MTN's regulatory affairs executive, Zolisa Masiza said that this means that the market is officially saturated, with no net gain in new subscribers signing up for contracts. Vodacom reported a drop in subscriber figures and MTN said it had seen numbers diminish by nearly 5% recently. The law is designed to create a database that can be used to track those involved in crime and ultimately be able to find and identify criminals more rapidly. Instead, say critics, the law is worthless since anyone committing a criminal act would be savvy enough to fake identity documents when they sign up for their new phone deal.
Whatever the reality, there's no doubt that the law is harming Vodacom and MTN subscriber figures and hampering growth in new subscribers. Often, immigrants to South Africa lack the required official identity documents, and the outlets which record their details seem unprepared. This has lead to Masiza saying that MTN will lobby communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda for a relaxation of the rules governing the recording of private subscriber information. If no wiggle-room is granted to MTN and Vodacom, then the two operators face months of disconnecting subscribers who are unwilling or unable to confirm their details using the correct documentation.

Nicolas Jacquey
Simon Marshall