Blocking out-of-bundle data usage is unlawful – Vodacom

Vodacom has argued that attempts by ICASA to block automatic out-of-bundle data usage is unlawful.

It has also taken exception to the regulator’s proposal that the expiry date of prepaid data bundles must be a minimum of three years.

This follows ICASA’s publication of draft End-User and Subscriber Service Charter regulations which deal with data usage and expiry.

According to the draft regulations, networks must not default subscribers to out-of-bundle data charges when their bundle is depleted.

Instead, subscribers must be provided with an option to buy additional data bundles upon depletion.

Vodacom said ICASA’s proposed three-year data expiry and out-of-bundle billing regulations are unlawful, outside its ambit as regulator (ultra vires), and irrational.

ICASA then challenged Vodacom’s assertions that its proposed regulations were unlawful and asked Vodacom to clarify them at public hearings on the regulations, currently taking place in Johannesburg.

Vodacom said ICASA is “interfering directly with price and product”, which the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) does not allow.

ICASA is effectively dictating commercial offers and pricing through its proposed regulations, it said.

“Failing to take into account the consequences of the proposed amendment and focusing only on the limited scope of the complaints received, would be irrational,” said Vodacom.

“Vodacom submits that the authority should not impose any amendment to the regulations unless it has properly considered the implications.”

Warning

The mobile operator warned that if ICASA promulgated regulations in the face of the negative implications for users, without addressing those implications, it would be irrational and therefore unlawful.

Vodacom said ICASA’s proposed regulations on out-of-bundle billing would also have a significant impact on machine-to-machine clients and private corporate networks.

It added that users who use mobile data in devices like dongles, routers, or tablets could find themselves cut off without any notification under ICASA’s regulations.

Downloads and streaming will stop, background data services will be disabled, and subscribers will be redirected to a Vodacom web page to either buy data or opt into out-of-bundle usage.

“This will interrupt data sessions as it would likely not be achieved in one seamless journey,” said Vodacom.

In terms of data bundles lasting three years, Vodacom warned that ICASA’s regulations would cause the operator to cancel its hourly, daily, weekly, and even monthly bundles. It would then have to introduce new, more costly bundles.

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said its reduced-duration bundles have become incredibly popular and their removal would be met with consumer backlash.

Vodacom suggested that ICASA should rather require operators to offer bundles with longer durations – 90 days or longer – and then allow consumers to choose.

Data rolling over

ICASA’s proposed regulations also prescribe that operators allow contract customers’ data to roll over.

Operators must also allow contract subscribers to transfer their data, or a portion thereof, to other users on the same network instead of allowing it to expire.

Vodacom said that rather than forcing one or two options in regulation, ICASA should allow networks to offer a different kind of bundle or value-added service that lets postpaid clients roll over their data.

ICASA challenged this and asked why operators should charge for such a service when free data roll-over is already something that exists in the market.

Joosub said it comes down to consumer choice. Allowing data to roll over indefinitely will have a price implication.

Rather than forcing all subscribers onto one option, allow them to choose whether they want indefinite data roll-over at a different price point, he said.

Now read: Unintended consequences of data bundle regulation

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Blocking out-of-bundle data usage is unlawful – Vodacom