The end of sell-by data: Mobile networks fall in line at last
Cellphone companies finally bow to consumer pressure on expiring data contracts
By March next year, millions of South African consumers will be able to keep their data and roll it over to the following month without losing it.
This is confirmed by major mobile networks who have finally complied with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa)’s End User Services and Subscriber Charter Regulations (EUSSC), which Icasa already wanted implemented by June. Icasa called for consumers to be able to keep their data for a longer period after South Africans complained about high costs.
Most of those who are losing data monthly are on contracts with their networks, while prepaid customers can keep their data for a longer period, but it costs them more.
Cell C and MTN confirmed to Times Select that by the end of February they would follow Telkom’s lead. Telkom announced this week that their customers could keep their data for months without losing it. Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler said the Consumer Protection Act stated that cellphone networks had always refused to “bow to consumer pressure”. “Icasa has backed down on its previous draft regulations which stated that data bundles should not expire for three years. The Consumer Protection Act states that all prepaid goods and services must be redeemable for at least three years and, for the past seven years that it’s been in effect, the cellphone networks have refused to bow to consumer pressure to stop making airtime and data expire after a month or two or three,” said Knowler.
Telkom became the first mobile operator in SA to enable data transfer and the rollover of unused data in compliance with the Icasa charter. Telkom executive for Mobile Products & Services Andrew Dawson said they proceeded with the implementation of the end-user subscriber charter, despite regulatory uncertainty because Telkom believes it is the right thing to do for the customer and consistent with its vision to lead the charge on data.
“Telkom has always led the charge on data. We championed lower data prices for consumers, and the implementation of the customer services charter is yet another way of protecting the customer’s interest,” Dawson said.
In its implementation of the customer services charter, Telkom has ensured there is greater benefit for customers who buy smaller bundles from 25MB-500MB. “These customers on prepaid packages will now have up to six months to use their data purchases,” said Dawson.
Cell C said many of their existing services already supported rollover of unused data “in some way”.
“We are well on track to be compliant with the regulations which will enable our customers to extend the validity of their bundled data,” said Cell C’s Candice Jones.
Cell C approached the high court in June 2018 to challenge Icasa on the time to deliver the regulations and not the actual regulations itself.
In May, Icasa called for a one-month deadline to all networks to comply, but by applying the End User Services and Subscriber Charter Regulations (EUSSC). Other networks followed suit and asked for an extension.
“The matter has been settled and the effective date of implementation of the End User Services and Subscriber Charter Regulations has been moved out to the end of February, which provides all the operators with more time to implement the necessary changes to be compliant with the regulations,” said Jones.
She said their intention was always to comply with the regulations. “We simply asked for more time to implement complex changes. We are pleased that the settlement allows us to be fully compliant well ahead of the deadline.”
MTN is likely to follow suit by the end of February next year. MTN spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan said they welcomed the settlement with Icasa on the matter of the End-User and Subscriber Services Charter Amendment Regulations. “The settlement has created valuable regulatory certainty that will give MTN the additional time required to achieve compliance,” she said.
She said they support Icasa’s objectives, as envisaged by the regulations. “The court proceedings did not seek to challenge the substance of the regulations, only to secure the additional time needed for MTN to deliver the extensive system changes, which are required for compliance. We look forward to completing this full process, by the end of February 2019.”
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said: “Vodacom notes the extended deadline for the End-User and Subscriber Charter Regulations. We have already started making the necessary preparations for implementation.”
The National Consumer Commission (NCC) early this year said it believed that in respect of prepaid data, unused data should not expire unless three years has lapsed, or the data has been used up.
Knowler said the network providers resell that unused data. “That is illegal as it belongs to the subscribers who have paid for it in advance.”
Trevor Hattingh of The National Consumer Commission said the “rollover” measure was a promising step towards ensuring consumers derived full value for money spent on data vouchers.
“As the overall regulator of consumer protection in the country, the NCC will monitor the practical implementation of the ‘rollover’ measure to establish its benefits or prejudices to consumers. Whatever we find through this monitoring exercise will then inform how we proceed with this issue.”