Cell C CEO Jose dos Santos. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Cell C CEO Jose dos Santos. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

Mobile operators will have to comply with the Independent Communications Authority of SA’s (Icasa’s) new data expiry rules from February 2019.

The end-user and subscriber service charter regulations were initially meant to come into effect in June 2018, but a last-minute court bid by Cell C, backed by MTN and Telkom, delayed their implementation.

The operators said in June they did not have enough time to update their systems so they could send notifications to consumers about data-bundle usage and let customers roll over unused data.

Icasa had given them only a month to prepare.

The rules also state that licensees will no longer be allowed to charge out-of-bundle rates for data when it is depleted — unless they have consumers’ consent.

On Thursday, Icasa and the mobile operators reached an agreement in the Johannesburg High Court to implement the regulations from February 28 2019.

Civil-engagement platform amandla.mobi, which campaigned against the delay in implementing the rules, saying it was hurting consumers, welcomed Thursday’s settlement.

“amandla.mobi is glad that the cellphone companies have come to their senses and agreed on an implementation date for the Icasa regulations…. We note, however, that there really is no good reason for the companies to have stalled the implementation with their legal interdicts,” said spokesperson Heather Robertson.

“We hope that MTN and the other cellphone companies do their best to implement these regulations and put people before profits,” she said.

When it launched its application for an interdict, Cell C said it needed until at least the end of 2018 to prepare.

This was because the operator’s billing and technical platforms were “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 others”.

The updated systems would also need “rigorous” testing. Cell C added that its mobile virtual network operator partners would have to align their systems too.

Vodacom said at the time it wanted a “phased implementation” of the rules. CEO Shameel Joosub said in May the regulations could weigh on revenues since 12% of Vodacom’s data revenues came from out-of-bundle charges.

Vodacom’s share price gained 0.2% on Thursday, while MTN added 0.7% and Telkom rose as much as 4.6%. Blue Label, which owns 45% of Cell C, gained 0.2%.

Partly because of regulatory uncertainties, all of these stocks have gone backwards so far in 2018, bar Telkom.