Kenyan mobile phone firm, Safaricom, said Monday it had switched off 680,000 mobile phone handsets out of a total of 1.5 million phones earmarked for deactivation in one of the biggest switch-off of customers since the advent of the mobile phone revolution in the East African nation.
The firm said here that the 0.68 million phones belonged to 19.1 million customers on its network.
The telecommunication industry regulator, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), said it agreed with the phone service providers to switch off phones which could not be traced for fear that criminals were using such gadgets and they portend a bigger health hazard.
CCK had issued the directive to the industry compelling all service providers to ensure that counterfeit phones were blocked from accessing Kenyan mobile networks with effect from 30 September, 2012.
Rival Airtel Kenya said it had switched off 740,000 mobile phone handsets from its network.
“Although the service provider said that it was too early to assess the financial implications of the blocking exercise, it confirmed that initial analysis of the customers impacted so far clearly indicated that the areas around Nairobi, Rift Valley, Central and Eastern were hardest hit by the exercise,” a statement by Safaricom said Monday.
Combined, these areas accounted for more than 60% of the targeted counterfeit phones.
Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore stated: We deeply regret the inconvenience and anxiety that this exercise has caused amongst our customers. We realise that they have little to do with presence of these counterfeit devices in the country and it is unfortunate that they have had to shoulder the negative consequences of the same.”
Mobile phone firms said in order to mitigate the inconvenience, they had been contacting all affected customers and providing them with the option of purchasing affordable genuine phones or redeeming their Loyalty Scheme Points for new handsets.
Collymore said: “For this exercise to be successful, all operators have to play their part and diligently block the counterfeit devices based on lists they receive from the other networks. We recognise that blocking handsets alone is not the long term solution and we call for more support to the CCK by related Government agencies to block entry and sale of the counterfeit devices and to step up prosecution of those who engage in their illegal importation and sale.”
He further called on the Government to reconsider the impending decision to impose VAT on mobile phones, saying that the move would make genuine mobile phones unaffordable to the majority of Kenyans and instead fuel the black market trading of counterfeits.