South Africa

Data Must Fall

Icasa lays down the law

Photo:REUTERS/Mike Segar Photo: A man uses a smartphone in New York City, in this picture taken November 6, 2013.

Icasa has laid down the law for mobile service providers in the country, namely MTN, Vodacom, and Cell C. The communications authority said the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations was underpinned by the general concerns about the data expiry and out of bundle data rules, perceived as prejudicial to customers, mostly the poor.

Data may not have fallen yet, but consumers will soon have more control over the data they do have.

On Thursday, the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (Icasa) announced regulations to address the concerns raised by consumers around the cost and expiry dates that accompany data.

Icasa said the main objective was not to regulate the price of data services but to develop minimum standards in respect of the provisions of data, SMS and voice services in line with section 69 of the Electronic Communications Act of 2005 (ECA). An amendment to the End-User and Subscriber was published in August 2017, which included the following amendments:

  • New time frames for the expiry of data bundles, with the shortest being 10 days for bundles between 1MB and 50MB, and the longest being 24 months for 20GB;
  • A requirement for licensees to send usage notifications for data depletion to the end-user; and
  • For end-users to be able to opt-out or opt-in to out-of-bundle pricing on data, voice and SMS.

On Thursday these were further extended to ensure that:

  • Users are sent depletion notifications when their usage is at 50%, 80% and 100%. “This will enable consumers to monitor their usage and control spend on communication services,” Icasa said in a statement.
  • Users’ data may be rolled over so that consumers do not lose unused data as is the current practice.
  • Users may transfer data to each other provided they are on the same network.
  • Operators no longer charge consumers out-of-bundle rates for data when their data has run out without the consumers’ specific prior consent. This will ensure that consumers are not defaulted to out-of-bundle data charges which are significantly higher than in-bundle charges.

Once the regulations are published, operators will have a month to comply. The regulations are expected to be gazetted in the next few days.

The data cost announcement follows a litany of complaints by customers who felt that the current charges were above global limits, and will come as a relief to many South Africans, especially the poor.

Professional radio DJ and socialite Thabo Molefe affectionately known to his supporters as T’bo Touch who has been vocal in the issue of data costs said Icasa’s decision was welcomed, but it did not come even close to addressing the issue of high data costs.

I don’t think it addresses the high data costs,” Molefe said.

Molefe said the operators needed more competition.

Look at Nigeria next door. They have a number of networks, why can’t we do the same? Policy makers are deliberately shutting out the prospect of opening the network spectrum because that is what will really bring down data costs. We are in a free market, other players should be allowed,” he said. DM

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