China's 200 million mobile phone subscribers who use prepaid cards will soon have to register with their providers or risk having their lines cut.
The new requirement is part of China's efforts to verify the owner of every phone number in the country as it tries to control telephone-related fraud and unauthorized transmissions including pornographic content.
The general plans for the new procedure were announced yesterday by a Ministry of Information Industry official who was interviewed by sina.com. Implementation is expected to begin by the end of the year, and phone customers will probably have six months after that to submit the paperwork.
"It's unfair if we require only new mobile phone users to register and ignore existing customers," Chen Yuping, a senior official at the ministry's China Academy of Telecommunication Research, said.
"More important, the registration mechanism loses its effectiveness in that case."
Customers now have two choices when they buy a mobile phone in China. They can be billed for services at the end of each month, in which case they must register with the phone company by showing an identity card. Or they can simply buy prepaid phone cards that are widely available.
The new rule requires new and existing prepaid customers to produce identification when purchasing a SIM card.
At the end of October, China Mobile's prepaid customers numbered 177 million out of 238.7 million subscribers.
China Unicom, the smaller of the country's major mobile providers, did not reveal figures, but industry officials believe the number of prepaid customers in total is at least 200 million in China.
"Current prepaid users will be required to go to the mobile operators' outlets with their identity cards to register," Chen said.
Shanghai Mobile and Shanghai Unicom, which are subsidiaries of China Mobile and China Unicom, are already ahead of the country in demanding more accountability from their customers. They implemented registration for prepaid customers on September 1.
By requiring registration by all mobile phone users, China says it can do a better job in eliminating short-message-system advertising spam and scams, financial fraud and the transmission of pornography.
(Shanghai Daily December 2, 2005)