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Good News! Data Will No Longer Be Expiring!

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2018-11-21
Finally! ICASA, MTN and Cell C have settled their lengthy court battle, with the new End-User and Subscriber Services Charter Regulations dictating that data will no longer be permitted to expire.

It was around May of last year that ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) published its End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations, which was essentially the first step in addressing the high cost of communication in South Africa.

This was but one facet belonging to a three-pronged process designed to address consumer concerns over the price of data services offered by telecommunications companies such as MTN, Vodacom and Cell C.

The regulations sought to address the following:

  • Protect consumers against bill shock. The regulations would prohibit the charging of exponentially higher out-of-bundle data rates without the consumer consenting to the charges;
  • Data transfer. Consumers on the same network would be permitted to transfer data to one another, and;
  • Data depletion notifications. Consumers were to be notified at various stages of data depletion – namely 50%, 80% and 100%.

What was supposed to be a quick fix, with the new regulations being implemented toward the end of May 2017, has since turned into quite a drawn-out saga involving name-calling, blame-shifting and court appearances.

Thankfully, it seems as if we’ll finally see an end to this story, and the ending is a happy one.

New Regulations For Network Providers

Last year, all of the big four network providers, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom Mobile pleaded with ICASA to extend the implementation deadline of the new rules. They said they needed more time to make the necessary technical changes.

ICASA refused, stating that it was not in the public’s best interest to do so. This, of course, led to the network providers throwing a hissy fit and taking the matter to court.

Back in June of this year, Cell C and MTN approached the High Court in Johannesburg to interdict ICASA from enforcing the (then amended) End-User and Subscriber Services Charter Regulations.

Fast forward to today, the court battle has been settled, with ICASA saying that it would serve no purpose to proceed with litigation on the matter, as the requested extension has effectively been granted. ICASA CEO, Wellington Ngwepe, said:

ICASA is pleased that there is now certainty on the effective date of the regulations. This is important as the regulations provide much needed relief to consumers.

According to the terms of the settlement, the new regulations will be implemented from 28 February 2019.

These regulations dictate that all internet service providers – including mobile networks – will be prohibited from charging subscribers for out-of-bundle data usage without their consent. As it currently stands, these companies have been automatically charging out-of-bundle rates at exorbitant prices whenever your data depletes.

Networks will also be required to offer the ability to roll over any unused data, and allow for the transfer of data from one subscriber to another on the same network.

That’s right, folks, data will no longer be expiring!

#DataMustFall – How Long Until We Get Cheaper Data?

ICASA is certainly trying to address the problems and concerns of the South African consumer. The number one objective being to develop minimum standards in respect of the provision of data, SMS, and voice services. 

The question still remains, though: When will the ridiculously high price of data fall? We’ve received no closure surrounding this topic just yet. ICASA has said that before this can happen, it must identify priority markets and then individually assess the competitiveness of those markets.

This is to determine whether any operator has significant market power. Due to this all being a lengthy process, ICASA has tackled it all in phases. 

Phase One has just been completed. Investigating the business rules of mobile operators and addressing any unfair practices. Particularly those that are prejudicial to the poor. These included the expiry of data and the default out-of-bundle data billing. 

Phase Two – identifying priority markets where the review of regulations may be necessary – has already begun.  

The third and final phase will be specific market reviews on what informs prices for communications services in South Africa. If applicable, it will then impose pro-competitive remedies. ICASA’s preliminary view is that the following markets should be listed for market reviews:

  • Wholesale fixed access services;
  • National transmission and metropolitan connectivity;
  • Wholesale supply of mobile network services and RAN services.

So, with network providers recently been granted more spectrum, we could possibly see a drop in the price of data. If not, we’ll have to wait a little while for ICASA to work its magic.

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