Reports recently emerged suggesting that Vietnam's Ministry of Information and Communications may be planning some changes to the way mobile phone subscribers are charged. Specifically, new subscribers may find themselves subject to a VND40,000 – about $2 US – to start using phone services.
The fees, according to Nguyen Van Tru, deputy director of the department of telecommunications, are being launched in a bid to stem a growing tide of unregistered SIM cards that are appearing throughout the country and, in turn, causing a shortage of phone numbers. The registration fee includes not only phone number registration, but also a new kind of SIM card that holds the registration. In the meantime, current users are expected to register their SIM cards with the appropriate agencies, according to reports.
Major phone providers in Vietnam, such as Mobifone and Vinaphone, have gone on record as saying that while the new plan would likely work, it would work to its fullest if the sales of discounted SIM cards were likewise curtailed. There is doubt that the plan will work, however, with some believing that the substantial value provided by discount SIM cards – which often offer quite a bit of credit for a low price – will surpass the value provided by the phone number registry plan the government is advancing.
This is in turn why at least one Mobifone sales manager in Ho Chi Minh City believes that the best way to counter the rise of discounted SIM cards is to make sure that all new SIM card balances are adjusted to zero, thus removing the incentive to buy them and provide more value to the government's plan.
But what seems to be a common thread is that, in order to make the government's plan truly effective will be the cooperation of businesses. While the goal here seems to be a worthwhile one – that is, ensure that there are sufficient phone numbers for everyone who wants one to be able to get one – the tight cooperation of business and government would likely leave many cold.
It also removes businesses' opportunities to offer promotional deals revolving around the discounted SIM cards, and it looks as though that's precisely what’s going to happen, as it's slated to start up by the end of this year. There may be some room for businesses to continue with at least some kind of promotional giveaways, though, as the MIC plans to collect feedback from businesses first, as well as from mobile service providers and end users before embarking on the full plan.
It's a disturbing concept, especially if it gains ground elsewhere, but few can deny the importance of making sure everyone has access to a phone number for their mobile devices. The profit requirements of these businesses need to be considered here, but they also need to be considered against the needs of users to have services accessible to them in the first place.
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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo