Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ
Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ

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 communications regulator says it has observed a positive response to its regulations, with some operators now offering tariff plans with a roll-over option.

This is despite the regulations not having been officially 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 what factors may cause or lead to high prices for data services. The commission wants to establish whether data supply quality and coverage is adequate by international standards and in terms of the country’s developmental needs.

In April, Icasa published its final End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations as part of a three-pronged process to address the costs of communicating.

One of the measures contained in the regulations, which were meant to come into force is 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 the consumers’ 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.

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 urgently to postpone implementation of the regulations. MTN also filed an affidavit in support of Cell C’s application. 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, however, that 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. He said the dispute was about  implementation timelines. However, said Maleka, Icasa had noticed that some of the operators such as Vodacom were already complying with the regulations.

This week, the regulator published its latest report on the analysis of tariff notifications submitted to it by operators to highlight different tariff plans (prices and product offerings) which were filed and/or existed in the market during the period January 1 to June 30 2018.

According to the report, the standard headline tariff for prepaid voice and data prices have been constant for the past five years.

“Telkom mobile has been offering competitive data offerings and prices, whereby in 2015, it aggressively dropped its 1GB bundle by 47.6% (from R 180 to R 99). Moreover, it was observed that over the period of five years, smaller operators such as Telkom and Cell C have offered competitive voice per minute rate and lower data packages,” the report states.

The major operators, MTN and Vodacom, had not responded to requests for comment late on Thursday.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za