(You can listen to the full radio interview above, transcribed below)
NOMPU SIZIBA: New cellphone data rules kick in at the beginning of March. This is at the instigation of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, also known as Icasa. It’s what they describe as the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter. However, there has been an outcry today as Vodacom literature was said to be indicating that it would be charging a fee for rolling data over – this while the likes of Telkom and MTN have not indicated plans to charge for the service.
Well, to get an understanding of what consumers can expect from the new regulations, I’m joined on the line by Ms Botlenyana Mokhele, a councillor at Icasa. Thanks very much for joining us, Botlenyana. So, come the beginning of March, what can consumers expect in terms of the services they can get from their service providers?
BOTLENYANA MOKHELE: Thank you for having me on the show. The service that we will eventually expect is exactly what is outlined in the regulation. The first being a usage notification at 50% and 100%. The second is the ability to roll over all data before it has expired. The third is the ability to transfer data before it expires. But more important is a prohibition on being charged out-of-bundle rates without your consent.
NOMPU SIZIBA: We are hearing about Vodacom looking to charge for the benefit of rolling over data. Did Icasa foresee this type of move, and what’s your view on it?
BOTLENYANA MOKHELE: The idea of this regulation is really not to be shock and a financial burden on consumers. So charging them for rollover data defeats the purpose of the regulation in the first place. But I don’t think it’s something that Icasa would have anticipated happening. So basically Vodacom has filed a tariff indicating that they will be charging for the rolling over of data. The authority is now considering that tariff application and the legal implications thereof, and we will then respond accordingly.
It was something that we would have anticipated, because in the first place the reason why we have the regulation is to try and bring down the cost of data and to favour consumers. So I don’t know if charging consumers really defeats that purpose. But, like I said, we have received the tariff application and we are considering it and we will respond accordingly.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Do you have the power to say no?
BOTLENYANA MOKHELE: I think based on what we are trying to achieve, and based on what the law allows us to do, that’s what we are considering at the moment. Icasa is considering whether or not the charge goes against the spirit of the regulations and if that’s the case, then that is the manner in which we will respond.
NOMPU SIZIBA: In terms of the spectrum that is supposed to come on stream some time in April or so, how much of an impact do you expect that will have on bringing the prices of data down?
BOTLENYANA MOKHELE: Spectrum coming through in April?
NOMPU SIZIBA: The message that we’ve been getting from government is that the minister of telecommunications is supposed to make an announcement about the release of spectrum around April, thereabouts.
BOTLENYANA MOKHELE: Let me put some perspective on that. Basically what the minister will be issuing in April will be a policy directive for Icasa to commence the licence that’s chosen. The licence is a process, where Icasa would have to issue and ITA, which is an invitation to apply. Then all the terms of how licensing happens will be captured. So I don’t think the idea is that the spectrum will be released in April as such. What should happen by April is we get a policy directive to start the process of licencing spectrum.
However, spectrum availability has always been billed as one of the cost factors that go into the price of data. So the sooner we are able to license that spectrum and release it to all the operators of data, what it will mean is that is an important input cost into the cost of data. Then that will be taken into consideration when tariffs are charged.
However, we are approaching this in a programmatic manner, which means that we have several projects that are under way to deal with the costs to communicate. So far the end-user subscriber charge regulations are meant to give relief to consumers. Icasa itself is undertaking a data inquiry in earnest. We have published a notice to that effect in December. So currently we are waiting on a full-on inquiry to determine the right competitive behaviour in the market, and also then to remove that process, a Section 67 process, to determine fair prices that should be charged to consumers.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Super. Thank you, Ms Mokhele, for your time.
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