Mexico may cut millions of cellphones to fight crime

Thu Apr 8, 2010 4:17pm EDT
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By Noel Randewich

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Tens of millions of Mexicans could find their cellphones disconnected this weekend if the government goes ahead with a new law meant to fight crime by forcing people to register their identities.

Advertisements on government radio and television have been urging Mexicans for weeks to register their cellphones by sending their personal details as a text message, but on Thursday 30 million lines remained unregistered as the Saturday deadline neared.

Analysts said that any related losses for Mexico's largest wireless operator, America Movil, would be tiny relative to the company's overall sales.

Still, America Movil, controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim, is urging senators to extend the deadline for implementing the law, passed a year ago to try to stop criminals from using cellphones for extortion and to negotiate ransoms in kidnappings.

"Close to 30 million people will be affected ... many of whom depend on mobile phones as their only means of communication," America Movil's head of institutional relations, Guillermo Ferrer, said in emailed comments.

Most of Mexico's 84 million mobile phones are prepaid handsets with a limited number of minutes of use that can be easily bought in stores. The phones can be topped up with more minutes through street corner vendors.

America Movil has 71 percent of Mexico's wireless market, along with operations in Brazil, Chile and other countries in the region. Most of the rest of Mexico's cellphone market is in the hands of Spain's Telefonica.