ICASA has taken the first step in addressing the high cost of data in South Africa. A number of new regulations are making networks unhappy.
ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) recently published its End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations. This is the first step in addressing the high cost of communication in South Africa. This is but one facet belonging to a three-pronged (see more below) process designed to address consumer concerns over the price of data services offered by telecommunications companies.
ICASA has stated that these regulations are primarily meant to protect the consumer, as well as further promoting transparency and prohibiting unfair business rules. Consumers should know exactly what is happening, what they’re spending their money on and what they are receiving in return.
Let’s take a look at what these new regulations are.
The regulations will seek to address the following:
• Protect consumers against bill shock. The regulations will prohibit the charging of exponentially higher out-of-bundle data rates without the consumer consenting to the charges;
• Data transfer. Consumers on the same network will be permitted to transfer data to one another;
• Data depletion notifications. Consumers are to be notified at various stages of data depletion – namely 50%, 80% and 100%.
These regulations are set to come into effect 30 May.
It was widely expected that ICASA implement regulations on data expiry. Consumers, the National Consumer Commission and even ICASA itself all share the view that data should not expire for three years.
At the moment, as we’re all woefully aware, the data we purchase expires after 30 days. A lot has been said about this. ICASA, however, has not mandated this regulation. This is why: “Civil society organisations put forward very persuasive and cogent rationale as to why this requirement will harm the very marginal and poor consumers we are mandated to protect,” said ICASA.
“In the bigger scheme of things, the fact that ICASA has not mandated a three-year expiry period for data bundles is inconsequential, in light of the view that this requirement is already imposed on operators in terms of Section 63 of the Consumer Protection Act.”
If the proposed data roll-over is to be enforced, it will then be up to the NCC to ensure it happens.
“The network providers resell that unused data; data that has been paid for and legally belongs to the subscribers who have paid for it in advance,” said the NCC. “We cannot and will not promote undue enrichment.”
#DataMustFall – How Long Until We Get Cheaper Data?
ICASA is certainly trying to address the problems and concerns of the South African consumer. The number one objective being to develop minimum standards in respect of the provision of data, SMS, and voice services.
The question still remains, though: When will the ridiculously high price of data fall?
We’ve received no closure surrounding this topic just yet.
ICASA has said that before this can happen, it must identify priority markets and then individually assess the competitiveness of those markets. This is to determine whether any operator has significant market power. Due to this all being a lengthy process, ICASA has tackled it all in phases.
Phase one has just been completed. Investigating the business rules of mobile operators and addressing any unfair practices. Particularly those that are prejudicial to the poor. These included the expiry of data and the default out-of-bundle data billing.
Phase two – identifying priority markets where the review of regulations may be necessary – has already begun. This should be finalized by June 2018.
The third and final phase will be specific market reviews on what informs prices for communications services in South Africa. If applicable, it will then impose pro-competitive remedies.
ICASA’s preliminary view is that the following markets should be listed for market reviews:
• Wholesale fixed access services;
• National transmission and metropolitan connectivity;
• Wholesale supply of mobile network services and RAN services.
By Jason Snyman