NTA to manage unused balances in SIM cards

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KATHMANDU, APR 08 – The Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) is all set to manage the balance that remains unused in cell phone accounts. Whenever a customer leaves a SIM card idle, the telecom service provider scraps its registration after a certain length of time. Any unused balance in such expired SIM cards goes into the account of the telecom service provider.

SIM cards having a balance are mostly left behind by tourists and workers who leave for foreign employment. The balance remaining in the SIM cards of subscribers who  keep their phones idle for a certain period also goes into the account of telecom service providers. Such balances which go into the account of service providers increase their profits significantly. Since the amount is already earned by the operator while selling recharge cards, the accumulation of such unused balances makes the profitability significantly high.

Issuing a directive to scrap the registration of SIM cards that have remained unused for more than six months, the NTA has also directed operators to manage such funds. “We have asked the regulators either to give back the amount to the concerned users or keep it separately,” said NTA Chairman Digambar Jha. The regulatory body, however, is unsure about the amount companies have accumulated in such a manner. The NTA is also unsure about how the money is being utilized by them.

“When we asked an operator having limited customers about the issue, it said that it had accumulated Rs800,000 in unused balances,” an NTA source said. “This shows that big operators have a huge amount of such money in their accounts.”

According to the NTA, more than 25.2 million SIM cards have been sold in the country. The data comprise GSM as well as CDMA SIM cards. GSM SIM cards are sold by Nepal Telecom and Ncell, the two big telecom service providers in the country. According to NTA data, Ncell has the largest customer base in the GSM segment with 12.1 million users. Nepal Telecom has 9.9 million GSM SIM card users.

The prepaid recharge cards of Nepal Telecom come with a specific validity period. If consumers fail to utilize the balance within the designated time, the amount becomes unusable for them. Ncell, however, does not have a validity period and the balance remains usable for around one and a half years. If the balance is unused for more than that time, it goes to the operator’s account.

“Most companies have a validity period of one and a half years,” a source at a private telecom service provider said. “After that, the balance is shifted to a separate account.” Different companies make use of such funds in different manners.

“Once the SIM registration is scrapped, the customers do not ask for the balance back from the telecom operators,” the official said. Since there is no specific provision regarding the issue and the NTA too has not issued any directive, telecom service providers having making use of the money as per their convenience. “We are not sure what has happened to such unclaimed amounts so far,” Jha said. “However, we have directed the operators either to return the amount or keep it separately.”

The NTA board of directors has made such adjustments by preparing a new policy. The NTA is yet to make plans regarding the utilization of such funds, though it has already directed the companies to keep them separately. “We will make a concrete decision soon,” Jha said.