The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has penalised the four major mobile operators in the nation a total of BDT76.5 million ($823,566) for hosting illegal VoIP (voice over internet protocol) services on SIM cards, The Daily Star has reported.
BTRC fined state-run Teletalk BDT50 million (US$538,209), Robi Axiata BDT20 million (US$215,283), Grameenphone BDT5 million (53,821) and Banglalink BDT1.5 million (US$16,146), with payment required by the end of June, the local newspaper wrote.
Illegal VoIP services, otherwise known as call bypass or SIMBox fraud, allow users to make less expensive calls by bypassing interconnection exchanges and legal international gateways, eliminating termination fees which are shared with the government.
BTRC cracked down on unauthorised call termination in 2018 and 2019, finding 52,344 SIM cards with illegal VoIP service from the four operators and originally fined them BDT266 million (US$2.86 million), The Daily Star stated.
The fines were reduced at a hearing in April after the operators assured the agency they would take measures to ensure their SIM cards don’t support illegal calls.
Teletalk MD Shahab Uddin told The Daily Star it would again appeal to the BTRC to revise the penalty.
In Ghana, the regulator, National Communications Authority (NCA) and its collaborators have busted several SIM Box fraud operations involving thousands of SIM cards belonging to the three main operators, MTN, Vodafone and AirtelTigo (formerly Airtel and Tigo).
But no telco has really been sanctioned with regards to SIM Box fraud in Ghana because the previous SIM registration process made it difficult for telcos to be able to verify the ID of the owners, so SIM cards were registered for people who could not be traced.
What that meant was that telcos did not have to wait to verify anyone’s ID before activating their SIMs. Once the SIM is bought it was activated immediately, ahead of verifying the ID of the owner.
Again, until recently, the law allowed individuals to register as many SIM cards as possible in their names. And telcos were not obliged to place a cap on the number of SIMs one person can acquire.
This situation allowed fraudsters to connive with SIM card vendors to register thousands of SIM cards in fake names and they used those SIMs to commit SIM Box fraud and many other crimes. Indeed, there were suspicions that even the telcos themselves were involved in registering SIM cards in bulk for people.
NCA busted a lot of these SIM Box fraud operations but could not really sanction any telco because it was not a crime to register a SIM card for anyone with an ID which took days or weeks to verify.
But as Ghana undertakes a second round with SIM registration with a sole ID card – the Ghana Card, it is expected that some sanity will come into the system and SIM cards used in SIM Box fraud can be traced to specific individuals.
In that sense, if a SIM card used in committing a crime could not be linked to a specific individual at a specific address, then the telco in questions will face the sanction for activating that SIM card illegally.