Papua New Guinea (PNG) may shortly introduce regulations to address the uncontrolled sale of prepaid SIM card mobile phones.  Currently there are no control measures in place for the sale of these devices.  This means that anybody (foreigner or PNG citizen) can purchase from a retailer a working mobile phone for as little as 50 Kina (or about AUD $20) without identification.

It is understood the proposed laws are being introduced because unidentified prepaid mobile phones are currently being used for illegal activities such as defamation and criminal activities.

What are the risks of regulating prepaid mobile phones in PNG?

Although there are some clear benefits such as counter terrorism and assisting law enforcement agencies, there is no evidence that mandatory registration leads to a reduction in crime[1].  For a country like PNG where 90% of the population live outside the major cities[2], in remote communities or have no formal identification, mandatory registration may have unintended consequences.

Some of the unintended consequences of mandatory registration may include:

  1. Loss of communication to Wantoks (i.e. friends and family).
  2. Negatively impacting on PNG national emergency warnings and evacuation plans in times of natural disaster such as tsunami or major volcano eruptions.
  3. Increased cost to telecommunication providers and consumers.
  4. Reduced revenue for telecommunication providers.
  5. Growth in black markets for fraudulently registered or stolen prepaid mobile phones.

Unlike Australia, there are a number of countries around the world that have previously considered mandating SIM registration but decided against it.  For example, countries such as New Zealand and United Kingdom do not require mandatory registration. 

Conclusion

The use of prepaid SIM card mobile phones has played an important part in the development of PNG’s economy and social structure.  Over the last 10 years mobile phone usage and network coverage has risen to around 80% of the country.  This rapid growth should be seen as a great achievement for PNG and its telecommunications industry.  If the new regulations are passed will the benefits outweigh the costs? What do you think?