From a simple stall on a street corner in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, Khuon Andy sells SIM cards, between 40 and 60 per month. Half of his customers provide identification to make their purchase, and half of them do not.
“I sometimes don’t even ask their name,” Mr. Andy said.
For customers who want a registered SIM card—so that the same number can be retrieved in case a phone is lost or stolen—prices start at $2.50. But for those who don’t have identification or don’t want to produce it, one can be picked up for $1.
But the bargain cards are soon to be eliminated from the market, and those already in use shut down, after the Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday that it would begin enforcing a 2012 circular requiring all phone numbers to be attached to an individual at the point of sale in a bid to combat criminal activity.
Vendors caught selling unregistered SIM cards will be detained or have their licenses revoked, Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith warned at a press conference on Tuesday, claiming that 70 percent of criminals—particularly terrorists, kidnappers and drug traffickers—use unregistered SIMs.
But on Thursday, Lieutenant General Sinarith said authorities would target telecommunication firms and not those who peddle their products.
“We don’t want to blame the sellers,” he said. “If we blame someone, we need to blame the companies, because only the companies can open up the service to use SIM cards.”
“They do business in Cambodia, but they don’t think about safety and security in Cambodia,” he said.
Of vendors interviewed across Phnom Penh this week, most claimed they were already doing business legally, and those who weren’t said they would fall into line before police came knocking—except for one.
As he cleaned the circuit board of a mobile phone with a toothbrush, Mr. Andy explained that the $1 SIM cards were popular among young Cambodians and those who did not have Cambodian ID cards, and that as long as there was demand, he would keep selling them.
The telecom firms, he said, sold the cards to him in three batches—bargain SIMs, regular SIMs and premium SIMs, which fetch higher prices due to numerical sequences that are considered lucky—and that as long as they continued to do so, he would sell them as such.
“Why doesn’t the company just close the service to the numbers?” he said. “If the company didn’t keep the number open, we couldn’t sell the SIM card.”
Multiple executives at major telecom firms declined to comment Thursday. Niek van Veen, marketing director at Cellcard, said the company supported the government’s decision to clamp down on unregistered SIMs, but declined to comment further.
Mr. Andy, however, said he did not believe that the government’s new enforcement push would cause companies to simply stop selling the bargain cards, which contribute a large portion of their revenue.
“They cannot enforce this because the companies will lose too much money,” he said.
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