It’s World Consumer Rights Day on 15 March and South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) is reminding the country’s voice and data users of their new rights under the pro-consumer amendments to the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter (EUSSC) Regulations.
Finalisation of the regulations by ICASA (The Independent Communications Authority of SA) is expected at the end of the month. When adopted, the amendments will, inter alia, require telecoms operators to rollover data bundles for a minimum of six months.
This will help mitigate the spectre of ‘disappearing airtime’ in South Africa where consumers are adamant they’re being billed for mobile data they’re not actively using, or have been caught unaware that their data bundles expired or were depleted and that their airtime was used for data.
According to ISPA chair, Sasha Booth-Beharilal: “The regulations will ease the burden on consumers who have to deal with rising costs of living, network outages as a result of load shedding, and who often forgo data due to unrealistic expiry dates.”
Much of the frustration experienced by consumers around this issue stems from the default billing rules on new prepaid SIM cards.
Under the existing EUSSC regulations, despite notifications being sent to the subscriber by SMS when data bundles are at varying states of depletion; and the facility to purchase a rollover bundle to extend the validity of remaining data, it is still possible, and quite common for all the airtime of a prepaid subscriber to be used for data.
Opting out of allowing airtime to be used for data, which is usually at a much higher cost per MB than data bundles, is the only way to prevent this from happening.
Therefore, on the occasion of World Consumer Day, ISPA urges consumers to change their Data Limit Lock (DLL) to R0 as soon as they purchase a new prepaid SIM.
When the amended EUSSC regulations are finalised and in force, however, consumers should expect some mobile data relief; although it is unclear whether the extended six month bundle validity will lead to lower data prices.
Going forward, ISPA believes that data rollover becomes irrelevant when the amount of data one may use is unrestricted as in the fixed-line data market where the trend is increasingly towards offering uncapped services. This is the direction where mobile data must eventually go.
In South Africa where millions of people living in rural areas are without access to fixed-line infrastructure and rely on mobile data for their communication needs, the vast majority are simply unable to afford it.
There are many options to minimise voice spend using WhatsApp and other OTT services, but much more work needs to be done on a better deal for South Africans using mobile data to interact with the world.
ISPA welcomes ICASA’s stated moves to finalise the amended EUSSC regulations.
The consumer movement marks 15 March every year as a means of raising global awareness about consumer rights and needs. Celebrating the day is a chance to demand that the rights of all consumers are respected and protected.
World Consumer Rights Day is globally recognised and accredited by the United Nations.
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