Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Mobile operators are complying with new regulations that make it possible for consumers to roll over unused data even before the regulations are officially implemented, according to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).

The regulator says it has observed a positive response to its regulations, with some operators now offering tariff plans with a roll-over option — even though the regulations have not been implemented because of a pending court challenge.

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.

Icasa is pulling out all the stops to reduce the cost of communicating, saying it is only through legislative means that it can ensure reasonable pricing and market structure in the sector. Despite various interventions in recent years, the cost of communicating remains high.

The Competition Commission inquiry is also examining which factors may cause or lead to high prices for data services. The commission wants to establish whether data supply quality and coverage are adequate by international standards and in terms of developmental needs.

In April, Icasa published its final end-user and subscriber-service charter regulations as part of a three-pronged process to tackle communicating costs.

One of the measures contained in the regulations, which were meant to come into force in June, is that network operators must allow subscribers to roll over their unused data.

Furthermore, all licencees will be required to send usage depletion notifications to consumers, and can no longer be allowed to charge consumers out-of-bundle rates — without their prior consent — for data when it has run out.

This, according to Icasa, will ensure that consumers are not defaulted to out-of-bundle data charges, which are significantly higher than in-bundle charges.

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 an extension of six months 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 then approached the high court in Johannesburg to postpone implementation of the regulations. MTN also filed an affidavit in support. 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.

Icasa is opposing the application. It said during the intervening period licencees would not be penalised for noncompliance. The case is due to be heard in November.

On Thursday, Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka pointed out that none of the operators opposed the regulations. The dispute was about timelines.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za