Earlier this year, following years of complaints by mobile network subscribers about unfair billing practices, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) promulgated new data regulations, prohibiting mobile networks from automatically deducting their clients’ airtime at expensive out-of-bundle (OOB) rates on depletion of data bundles. This was met with joy by mobile internet users as they no longer had to worry about bill shock. However, within the framework of current ICASA regulations, it is still possible for subscribers whose data balances include both special and normal (expensive) data to find themselves having to spend more airtime on data than they had budgeted.
Although automatic activation of OOB rates is now forbidden, mobile subscribers do not yet have full control of how they want their data to be used. Current ICASA regulations allow mobile networks to revert to normal data when promotional data bundles have been used up, without asking clients for permission. This should not be the case because the purchasing of a special data bundle is an indication that a client wishes to save normal data, which may be significantly more expensive and reserved for non-heavy internet use e.g. reading emails, chatting on Whatsapp, etc. There should be an option to make certain data bundles off-limits if a special data bundle has been loaded.
MTN’s 1GB monthly data bundle, for example, costs R149 whereas the 1GB Night Express bundle from the same network, which is valid for one night from 00:00 to 06:00, costs only R10. A user who loads the Night Express bundle or other time-limited bundles for the purpose of downloading a large file, may end up depleting the more expensive data bundle if the download pauses for a long time for some reason, only to resume when the cheaper bundle is no longer valid. Downloads can get interrupted for a number of reasons e.g. poor signal reception, scheduled network maintenance, throttling, etc.
If a client discovers that a significant amount of standard data was used even though they had purchased a special data bundle, they may feel betrayed by their network. Therefore, it is important for ICASA regulations to protect promotion hunters from unexpected use of their ‘anytime’ data bundles. While mobile networks do send data usage notifications, it is common for internet users to leave their devices unattended while downloads are in progress, which may lead to unpleasant surprises. Ideally, if a client purchases promotional data, their standard data should be protected the same way as airtime, requiring an opt-in notification. This would give clients a chance to either close active downloads or load additional special bundles, thereby saving their airtime.