For a long time mobile network subscribers have been complaining about unexplained disappearance of their airtime. This is likely to come to an end this week as the new regulations by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) come into effect.
According to the new regulations, which will become effective at the beginning of March, cellphone networks are no longer allowed to charge subscribers out-of-bundle (OOB) rates by default. That means when a user’s data bundle has been depleted, they will have to be disconnected from the internet and given an option to purchase a new data bundle or opt in to continue using data at OOB rates.
Using airtime to browse the internet is significantly more expensive than using data bundles. Hence, default activation of OOB rates by some mobile networks was an inconvenience to users, who had to check their data balances frequently to ensure the safety of their airtime.
In the past, many infuriated mobile internet users have taken to the social media pages of their chosen networks to express their complaints about mysteriously disappearing airtime. Cellphone networks usually blamed the disappearance of airtime to apps which download updates in the background. However, some users were convinced that allowing apps to use data at OOB rates was a money-making strategy by the networks, sometimes accusing them of stealing their airtime. While the activation of ICASA rules may not stop some apps from using data in the background, users will have peace of mind knowing that their airtime is safe.
The new regulations also require mobile networks to provide an option to rollover data so that consumers do not lose unused data. However, this requirement is open to interpretation and does not force networks to rollover data indefinitely, without charging a fee or setting their own terms and conditions. MTN considers itself to be already fully compliant to this requirement since purchasing a new data bundle results in the expiring data bundle being rolled over. This means that data will continue to expire if the user cannot afford to buy another data bundle. Also, Vodacom announced that is would charge a fee to roll over unused data, a move which has been widely criticised.