The National Consumer Commission (NCC) recently stated its position on prepaid data bundles in South Africa.
Data, prepaid voice, and SMS bundles must be valid for three years, it said.
This comes after mobile operators panned draft regulations from ICASA which seek to set minimum expiry periods for bundles.
Mobile networks said the move will cause prices to increase and impact their ability to compete effectively.
It will also cause subscribers who rely on hourly, daily, or weekly bundles to be excluded.
Operators also stated that the Consumer Protection Act came into effect years ago and the NCC has not made any pronouncements about prepaid data bundle expiry – leading them to believe that everything was in order.
The NCC disputed this, however, saying it has engaged mobile operators on the matter.
We asked the major operators about this dispute, with their replies detailed below.
Cell C said it has discussed the issue of data bundle expiry with the NCC for many years.
“We have explained to them that they have misinterpreted the application of section 63 of the CPA as it applies to data bundles. The last engagement was in August 2016 and we have not heard from them since then regarding this issue.”
This is the section which deals with the expiry of prepaid credits or vouchers.
Cell C does not expect the NCC to take the matter forward as it did through ICASA hearings, as there is nothing to take forward.
“It is not for ICASA to be enforcing sections of the CPA,” said Cell C.
Cell C also warned ICASA that if it goes ahead with trying to enforce a disputed provision like Section 63 of the CPA, it will not “take it lying down”.
Vodacom said it has also engaged the NCC and will provide its full cooperation. It expects the matter to be dealt with within the NCC’s mandate and the requirements of the law.
Should ICASA try to enforce the CPA, however, Vodacom warned it would be unlawful and consumers will be the ones who ultimately suffer.
“A three-year expiry on bundles will restrict competition on products and services, and limit consumer choice,” said Vodacom.
“Our most popular bundles are those with daily and hourly expiry. These have been instrumental in reducing the effective price of data by more than 40% over the past three years.”
MTN told MyBroadband that the NCC conducted an investigation into mobile networks’ contract terms and conditions, and issued a preliminary report in 2016 which included reference to Section 63 of the Consumer Protection Act.
While the NCC contends that section 63 is applicable to the expiry of prepaid data bundles, the investigation was never finalised.
“MTN continues to engage with both ICASA and the NCC on this matter, consistently highlighting the importance of a solution to address concerns,” it said.
“MTN does not believe that section 63 of the Consumer Protection Act is applicable to prepaid data bundle expiry. We trust that an amicable solution can be reached with the NCC.”
Should ICASA try to enforce Section 63 of the CPA, MTN said it will consider its options.
“MTN does not wish to pre-empt the actions of the regulator, [but] suffice to say that should the matter escalate to that level, MTN will consider its options.”
Telkom said it engaged with the NCC and submitted its position on the matter.
“We would expect the NCC to consider all arguments presented in relation to this matter and to make a determination in accordance with the NCC’s mandate,” said Telkom.
“In terms of ICASA’s role in enforcing this section of the CPA, it should be noted that ICASA’s powers are as set out in its empowering statute. Any questions related to proposed actions by ICASA should, however, be directed to ICASA.”