Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has expressed concern about the delay of the implementation of End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations, which would have made it possible for consumers to carry over their unused data.

Network operators have been under intense scrutiny in recent months for allegedly ripping off consumers, especially when it comes to data expiry dates and out-of-bundle billing.

In terms of the Icasa regulations, all licensees will be required to send usage depletion notifications to consumers when their usage is at 50%, 80% and 100% depletion levels. The regulator said this will enable consumers to monitor their usage and control spend on communication services.

Furthermore, all licensees will be required to provide an option for consumers to transfer data to other users on the same network. Operators are no longer allowed to charge consumers out-of-bundle rates — without the consumers’ specific prior consent — for data when their ascribed data has run out. This, according to Icasa, will ensure consumers are not defaulted to out-of-bundle data charges, which are significantly higher than in-bundle charges.

Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka confirmed on Monday that the implementation of the new rules, which were meant to come into effect last Friday, had been delayed pending a court hearing.

Cell C and the other industry players had approached Icasa requesting an extension of the date of implementation of the regulations. Cell C had requested six months extension to comply with the regulations. The regulator refused to grant the extension saying "granting such an extension would not be in the public interest."

Cell C subsequently approached the High Court in Johannesburg on urgent basis to postpone the implementation of the regulations.

"Icasa has decided that it will defend the application by Cell C and to this end, has resolved to postpone the effective date until the matter has been heard and pronounced upon by the court. During this intervening period licensees will not be penalised for non-compliance," said Maleka.

"It is important to note that the end-user and subscriber service charter amendment regulations of 2016 was necessitated by the general concerns about, amongst others, the unfair business rules imposed by licensees in the provision of data services to consumers. In particular, the regulations seek to grant consumers relief against expiry of data bill shocks occasioned by lack of transparency on out-of-bundle charges and other rules which are prejudicial to consumers," he said.

The effect of the extension would be that consumers will continue to be "prejudiced by the continued application of the impugned business rules".

"This would mean consumers will for the foreseeable period of the extension not be able to carry over their unused data and will continue to be charged high out-of-bundle rates without their consent, " said Maleka.

Cell C said it had advised the regulator that while it was fully committed to complying with the regulations, it was impossible to meet the proposed timeline.

"To fully implement the necessary changes across its entire product suite, intensive development and numerous system changes will need to be made followed by rigorous testing before Cell C can offer this [new regulations] to its customers.

"As a result, Cell C and its vendors are technically not able to meet the deadline set by Icasa. Cell C’s billing and other technical platforms are highly complex and rely on one another to operate effectively which means that a change in one system often results in changes being required in other systems. Furthermore, changes to the billing system require a cycle of development to ensure rigorous governance and control measures are met… To do this effectively, without disrupting the customer and causing unforeseen consequences, Cell C expects that it will need at least six months to properly comply," the company said.

It said it was relieved by the "industry-affecting order of the High Court to suspend the implementation date of the end-user and subscriber services charter regulations".

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

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