Cell C has made what it calls a “voluntary offer” to the Competition Commission over data prices, which will see prepaid customers getting free “lifeline” data, albeit very limited in scope. This follows the commission’s findings following its inquiry into South Africa’s data services market.
The operator’s chief legal officer, Zahir Williams, said the agreement is based on Cell C’s “social responsibility to ensure that lower-income consumers have access to essential communication services through the provision of free daily lifeline data and the zero-rating of essential government and educational services”.
“It is important to keep in mind that the inquiry did not find any evidence that Cell C had contravened the Competition Act, but rather that certain industry-wide measures would improve access by lower-income consumers.”
By 1 May, Cell C will launch a free lifeline package, which, according to a company statement, is capped at 250KB/day at a “bundle size determined by the company”. However, 250KB is only a quarter of a megabyte, insufficient to load even one modern Web page.
In response to a query from TechCentral about the small size of the data allocation, Cell C said the lifeline package supplements what Cell C already offers in the way of Free Basics By Facebook and other value-add services.
“Cell C already offers free access to a range of websites plus 20MB daily free usage on Free Basics by Facebook. The figure of 250KB is a minimum additional amount and needs to be viewed in the context of Cell C’s existing free offers and qualifying criteria, which will be based on activity of customers in the prior seven days. The qualifying criteria is being finalised and will be announced prior to (the) 1 May (launch date).”
Cell C will further enhance the lifeline package to allow for direct messaging to another Cell C customer via the Cell C app and portal.
The package, to be filed with communications regulator Icasa, includes delivery conversion to SMS (SMS delivery fallback) for customers who are not on the app; five free SMSes per customer per day (Cell C to Cell C); seven free call-me requests per day (across networks and already available) plus Free Basics (internet.org) access. Free Basics is a Facebook product providing limited access to certain services.
Customers can access the lifeline bundle via a USSD short-code string, or the Cell C app or portal. When the request is received, the system will check if the customer qualifies. If so, the lifeline bundle is then activated, and the customer will receive an SMS confirmation.
There are some limitations to the service, such as no video or streaming of sites other than YouTube where there is some educational and health content available – in other words, no services such as Netflix, Showmax, Google Movies, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Spotify, Joox, YouTube Music and Apple Music.
Then, to “ensure transparency for the benefit of customers”, Cell C said it will implement “effective rate” notifications that will allow clients to check usage per megabyte prices. This will be come into effect within six to nine months and will “enhance price transparency, particularly for products no shorter than 30-day bundles, hybrid and post-paid customers.”
The company will also expand the range of websites that it zero-rates, including adding some tertiary and health institution websites as well as various government and public-benefit websites. — (c) 2020 NewsCentral Media