Advocacy groups welcome new data regulations, but say more must be done

Cape Town - From data ripoff to data rollover - frustrated consumers battling disappearing data and hefty out-of-bundle pricing will finally benefit from new regulations.

Advocacy groups Right2Know and the South African National Consumer Union (Sancu) welcomed the new regulations around data expiry announced by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), but said more needs to be done to reduce costs of communication.

Icasa announced changes to data regulations at a media briefing on Thursday

The new regulations, set to be gazetted in the coming days, will require cellphone companies:

  • to notify subscribers when their data falls below 50%, 80% and 100% depletion levels;
  • to rollover unused data;
  • to allow the transfer of data within a network; and
  • to stop charging expensive out-of-bundle rates without customer consent.

"The issue of expiring data was one of our main concerns and we are happy that it has been addressed," Right2Know spokesperson Busi Mtabane told Fin24.

However, she said the lobby group is disappointed that the actual costs of communication were not reduced. "South Africa has some of the highest data/airtime costs in the world, but I guess this is a step in the right direction."

Call for universal basic internet

Right2Know is now pushing for access to universal basic internet in the form of 2G network that should be free and uncapped. "We remain resolute that our right to communicate – to receive and impart information and opinions – is central to our right to know hence we are now calling for a universal basic uncapped internet access."

Mtabane said Right2Know's demand for free SMSes also still stands. She said high SMS prices are tantamount to "robbery" of the poor who can't afford smartphones. "SMSes should be free as they cost the operators almost nothing to transmit."

Sancu, which argued in written comment to Icasa that the expiry of pre-paid data is contrary to the Consumer Protection Act and therefore illegal, said the new rules were a "bold step" in favour of consumers.  

"The changes are a major step in the right direction and will benefit consumers greatly," Sancu deputy president Clif Johnston told Fin24.

More needs to be done

"Not all of SANCU's recommendations have been implemented, so there is more to be done, but the most pressing issues have been dealt with decisively."

Johnston explained that Sancu does not always advocate for increased regulation, but in cases like this where the market failed to regulate itself effectively, such intervention is necessary.

"The market will also be fairer and more competitive, as there are local service providers who have been implementing all the new requirements voluntarily for many years at highly competitive tariffs," he said.

Mobile service providers MTN‚ Vodacom‚ Cell C and Telkom Mobile told Fin24 that it would await the final version of the regulations to be published before giving detailed comment on the changes.

Companies would be given 30-days to comply with the rules once the regulations have been gazetted.


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