The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

11 'SIM Card' Campaigners Detained for Questioning in Rangoon
By ZARNI MANN / THE IRRAWADDY Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eleven persons who were campaigning in the street for cheaper mobile phone/ SIM card distribution in Burma were stopped and questioned by local authorities in South Dagon Township of Rangoon on Tuesday morning.

The 11 campaigners were taken to a local authorities office in South Dagon and were questioned by the township administrator, but were later released.

“We were told that we need permission to distribute pamphlets, and we were asked to sign a declaration that we would not continue this public campaign in the future—but we didn’t sign,” said Htin Kyaw who achieved a degree of notoriety when he led activists protesting the hike of fuel prices in 2007.

The eleven detained activists were distributing leaflets emblazoned with the slogan: “Allow cheap mobiles/ SIM cards for people!” around the main streets of South Dagon, North Dagon, North Okkalapa and Hlaing Thar Yar townships. They spoke to passers-by and urged the authorities to provide 5,000-kyat ($2) SIM cards.

“Almost every person of every class in our neighboring countries owns a cheap mobile phone, so why can’t we?” said Htin Kyaw. “In our country, the price of a SIM card is so high that most people cannot afford one.”

In January, a private Burmese company, Shwe Pyi Ta Khun, proposed itself as the second Mobile Network Operator in the country—after Myanma Post and Telecommunications (MPT)—and requested permission to retail mobile phone SIM cards for 5,000 kyat each.

Government-run MPT later discarded the idea, while announcing that much more time was needed to build a network system, its stations and the labor of installing and updating equipment. It also claimed that Shwe Pyi Ta Khun's proposal did not meet existing regulations, though it offered no explanation as to which law or laws would be contravened.

Rumors around business circles indicate that MPT intends to launch a GSM SIM card in March, though only in Rangoon and Naypyidaw, which would retail for 180,000 kyats ($225). However, MPT on Tuesday declined to confirm whether that was true.

The most common communications systems used for cellphones in Burma are GSM, CDMA 45 MHz and CDMA 800 MHz.

When first launched on the market, SIM cards were retailed for an astonishing 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 kyat (up to $3,300). Burma’s telecommunications department, in collaboration with Tay Za's Htoo Company, introduced a “one-time-use SIM” in December 2008, each of which sold for 20 to 50 FEC ($20 to $50).

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