Data wars: Commission stands firm on consumer rights

Johannesburg – Recently released draft regulations on out of bundle data pricing and expiry are still not consistent with the Consumer Protection Act, according to the National Consumer Commission (NCC).

Earlier this month the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) issued a notice in the Government Gazette indicating its intention to amend end-user and subscriber service charter regulations.

The draft regulations propose that network providers give data depletion notifications at regular intervals, as well as notifications when the data bundle has run out and an option to buy additional bundles, among other things.

The draft regulations also amend the validity period of data expiry. For example, data bundles greater than 20 GB should have a validity period of 24 months.

The public has until September 19 to submit comments. The NCC has announced its intention to give comment to Icasa, but not publicly as it maintains a professional working relationship with the body.  

The NCC conducted an investigation which found that data expired after 30 days instead of the three years allowed by the Consumer Protection Act. Subsequently, in July 2015 Icasa and NCC partnered in a cooperative working agreement to address these telecommunication-related consumer complaints and to remedy the data expiry matter.

“Now, the draft regulations that Icasa gazetted are still not consistent with section 63 [of the Consumer Protection Act] and the NCC wishes to state for the record that although it is part of a task team together with Icasa that are working on the data expiry and out of bundle data cost, it was not consulted by Icasa when it drafted the regulations,” said NCC spokesperson Trevor Hattingh.

Section 63 deals with prepaid certificates, credits and vouchers. It states that a prepaid certificate, card, credit, voucher or similar device does not expire earlier than “the date on which its full value has been redeemed in exchange for goods or services or future access to services” or “three years after the date on which it was issued, or at the end of a longer or extended period agreed by the supplier at any time”.

“It is for this reason that I stated below that the NCC will be making comments to Icasa on its views and that the NCC will not sell consumers out on what they are legally entitled to,” he said. “It will be up to Icasa to either accept or reject our comments.”

Vodacom also announced it would consult on the draft regulations. Over the past three years, Vodacom has brought down its data prices by 44%, Fin24 reported.

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