Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C are killing toll-free numbers in South Africa

Despite new regulations that came into effect last month, Vodacom is still charging for calls made to toll-free numbers.

That’s according to Gregory Massel, the director of Switch Telecom.

He said their tests also show that Telkom was no longer connecting calls from Telkom Mobile to non-Telkom toll-free numbers.

Vodacom and Telkom were asked to comment on the claims, but neither company responded by the time of publication.

Disputes at ICASA

New numbering plan regulations for South Africa came into effect on 24 September, which stated that all calls made to 0800 numbers must be free – including those made from cellphones.

However, a lack of action from telecommunications service providers has set the stage for a showdown.

A point of contention is the tariffs Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C want to charge to connect their clients to toll-free numbers.

The regulations stipulate that although a network may not charge its clients for making a call to a 0800 number, they may “reverse bill” the call.

The operator of the toll-free number effectively pays for all calls and the price of the calls are meant to be set through commercial agreements.

Switch Telecom contends that Cell C, MTN, and Vodacom have not negotiated agreements, and simply set new toll-free tariffs.

Toll-free reverse-billing money flow diagram
Flow of funds: Government Gazette

Vodacom and MTN decided to charge operators of toll-free numbers R1 per minute, while Cell C has set its tariff at R1.32 (excl. VAT).

Switch Telecom subsequently lodged a complaint with ICASA.

“On the eve of the implementation date of the toll-free regulations, ICASA received disputes from one licensee (Switch Telecom) against 3 other licensees (MTN, Vodacom, and Cell C),” said ICASA.

Vodacom has also lodged a dispute against Telkom, said ICASA.

It is understood that Telkom’s decision to stop routing calls from Telkom Mobile to non-Telkom 0800 numbers is the reason Vodacom decided not to implement the regulations.

“We are attending to the disputes and any non-compliance will be dealt with in terms of the regulations,” said ICASA.

The regulator said it is not aware of any operator that has not implemented the regulations.

“Even those that have lodged disputes with the Authority are expected to comply fully with the regulations.”

Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C destroy the toll-free market

Switch Telecom contends that Cell C, MTN, and Vodacom had no intention of implementing the new toll-free regulations.

By dragging their feet and charging their new rates for toll-free calls, they are effectively killing the toll-free market, said Massel.

Rather than using a toll-free number, Massel predicted that company call centres, and organisations such as ChildLine, would switch to a callback system.

These systems disconnect incoming callers and phone them back at lower tariffs than toll-free providers will be able to offer.

Massel told MyBroadband that Switch Telecom will consider taking the matter to the competition commission.

“It’s not something we would do on our own, but if there is interest from other parties we could look at it.”

Now read: Telephone and cellphone number codes in South Africa

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Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C are killing toll-free numbers in South Africa