Icasa drops data expiry bombshell on operators - TechCentral

Icasa drops data expiry bombshell on operators

Communications regulator Icasa has published draft regulations that, if implemented in final form, will prevent telecommunications operators from expiring users’ data for up to 24 months.

The regulations could have a huge impact on mobile providers, which have developed pricing based on data expiry that’s often as short as 30 days – and sometimes even shorter.

Icasa published a notice in the Government Gazette on Monday saying it intends amending the end-user and subscriber service charter regulations. Regulation 8B introduces “out-of-bundle billing practices” and “expiry of data practices”.

Icasa has proposed that data bundles between 1GB and 5G must remain valid for 90 days, while bigger bundles, such as 20GB and more, must remain valid for 24 months or longer. End users must also be provided with an option to roll over unused data before the expiry date.

Specifically, the proposed expiry periods for data bundles are:

  • 1-50MB: 10 days
  • 50-500MB: 30 days
  • 500MB-1GB: 60 days
  • 1-5GB: 90 days
  • 5-10GB: 180 days
  • 10-20GB: 12 months
  • 20GB and more: 24 months

Among other things, the draft regulations state that operators must provide a mechanism for end users to opt into or opt out of bundle charges when their data bundle is depleted and they must ensure that end users are sent data depletion notifications at regular intervals.

The notifications must be sent at 50%, 75%, 90% and 100% depletion of data bundles. Consumers must not be defaulted automatically to out-of-bundle data charges upon depletion of a bundle.

Where someone does not opt in or out of out-of-bundle data usage when their data bundle has been depleted, operators must automatically disconnect them from out-of-bundle data usage until such time that they give their express authorisation to do otherwise.

Interested parties have been given until 19 September 2017 to comment on the proposed regulations. — © 2017 NewsCentral Media


  1. Ofentse Letsholo on

    This is good news, the only good thing ICASA has done for consumers this year.

  2. Werner Ackermann on

    This doesn’t quite cover the order-of-use problem.

    Bundles that expire first should be used first.

  3. ranger@mybroadband on

    1)Where is the link to the draft (which may answer my other questions)?
    2)The article only mentions “data bundles”, are the changes only applicable to once-off data-bundles (e.g. for prepaid users, or add-ons to other contracts), or are they also applicable to recurring data contracts (whether data-only or not)? If so, do these regulations *only* apply to mobile data, or to “fixed-mobile” data too, and then what about “fixed” (DSL, FTTH, Micro-wave, WiFi/WISP etc.)?

    3)”The intervals must be sent at 50%, 75%, 90% and 100% depletion of data bundles”
    Why specify the exact intervals so narrowly? For example, I know of operators with notifications at 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, and it is some effort (probably about 2 man-months including development, end-to-end testing, migration of customer opt-out settings, and communication to customers) to change this with little difference in utility to the end-user.
    4)”Consumers must not be defaulted automatically to out-of-bundle data charges upon depletion of a bundle.”
    This is the *most* important one, with it, many of the other aspects are moot, and without it customers will still be disadvantaged. Of course, most customer-focused service providers already have this …

  4. This does not justify the fact that the data pricing in South Africa is horrible. Poor people can’t access information online due to this pricing. Propose that data cost price should be cut off by 50%

  5. why?? why 1-50MB only 10 days??? iow PnP can come fetch my bought bread back if i havent used it completely??? i say its mine, i bought it… even if only 2MB…

  6. once again those that have money and are discounted for buying big bundles will have the advantage here over poor that cant afford huge bundles… right?? the less you buy the quicker it will be taken…right?? what if a parent loads only 50MB so kid can let her dad to come fetch her… iow he will now have to load 150MB so she can send her dad 26 messages (one a day) seeing 50MB will expire every ten day…right?? i dont see anything better to this… licking a wound and saying its better

  7. There should be NO expiry date. If I have paid for it then it is MINE to use as I choose, not as dictated to me. Who do these people think they are anyway? If I fill up with petrol how long that lasts is MY business! I have PAID for it, end of story. People are sick and tired of continual rip-off practices in SA!

  8. ICASA generally seems to do very little that helps the man in the street but I have to say these regulations make sense to me. The current system is like going to a restaurant, ordering a piece of steak and then when you’re half way through, the waiter comes and takes it away! Go ICASA!

  9. ranger@mybroadband on

    “There should be NO expiry date. If I have paid for it then it is MINE
    to use as I choose, not as dictated to me. Who do these people think
    they are anyway? If I fill up with petrol how long that lasts is MY

    You can’t really compare these two. In the ‘petrol’ case, the petrol station doesn’t need to “store” (or make any provision at all for) all the petrol that people have bought and not used. In the ‘data’ case, if the service provider can’t predict when you will use your data, how can they ensure that there will be sufficient network capacity when you want to use it? If data never expired, and all users had 100GB of unused data, and 10% of them decide to use it on the same day, everyone would have a poor experience.

    You need to be very careful with analogies. For example, I could say that, similarly, restaurants that offer special prices on certain days of the week (in order to get more business on quiet days) should honour them later, even on days of peak demand, because I’ve bought food credit, and “how long that lasts is MY business”, but this would be an analogy as broken as yours.

    The expiry times provided by ICASA don’t make sense though, I would argue that something along the following makes more sense (for “pre-paid data bundles or top-up):
    1)Less than 1GB: 30 days minimum
    2)1-5GB: 3 months minimum

    3)5-20GB: 6 months minimum
    4)>20GB: 12 months minimum

    Having data valid for 2 years will add costs for operators (for example, if the user was inactive for 12 months, they would have wanted to recycle the number, but now they will need to keep it active for another 12 months if the customer had bought a 20GB data bundle and not quite used it all), to relatively little benefit to consumers. Where consumers are currently disadvantaged the most is small data bundles that expire in very short times, and the guidelines in the article don’t address that. No (paid-for) data should expire in less than 1 month; implementing this wouldn’t cost the operators that much (they need to keep usage history and balance information online for at least 1 month for other reasons).

  10. Danie Duvenage on

    Ranger your arguments against are flawed. The banks can hold the balance on your account for years, data no different.

  11. ranger@mybroadband on

    Another flawed analogy, because:

    1)You are talking about the actual balance of your money, not a service that is rendered for a fee, and you have ignored the service fees most banks charge.
    2)Banks place limits on how much you can withdraw from your account, (among many reasons, to avoid creating a ‘run’), are you saying service providers should be able to enforce daily use limits on pre-paid data bundles?
    3)Most banks they limit how far back you can view your balance history (in some cases 3 months) without paying additional fees. Are you saying service providers should be allowed to charge for displaying usage history older than 3 months? On some kinds of accounts (e.g. some bond accounts I have seen), you can’t actually see the balance history, only transaction history and the current balance (you have to calculate a balance from say 3 months ago from the current balance and the transactions).
    4)Banks don’t have to “authorize” micro-payments every few minutes from every user (as a mobile network has to do), so the impact of transaction history is lower, and they often charge fees for such transactions to fund the infrastructure required for processing and storing the transactions.
    5)Banks don’t really have problems with ‘running out of bank account numbers’, while mobile networks in South Africa do.

  12. Good, and stuff the cell providers, data was always expiry date free, the addition of expiry dates was never anything other than a profit making racket by the providers. Little wonder South African companies in general make a good 50% more profit than their First world counterparts. South Africa is seen as a good exploitation opportunity.

  13. I understand what you are saying, but that is the way data used to work, there was never any reason to change it other than profit and exploitation in the first place.

  14. Oh no!!! All the operators will go out of business!! How will they now steal money from their naive clients?

  15. Danie Duvenage on


    Data on your cellphone account is bought and stored for later use just like cash. It can therefore be regarded as an asset as it has monetary value. Banks charge a fee for transacting in these assets and they may charge a fee for its safekeeping. Furtheremore, they may set certain usage parameters for logistical and safety reasons. Data can be susceptible to the same controls. Just like the banks cannot remove my money if I did not use it within a certain time period, data service providers should keep my assets safe until I need to use it. Charge an administrative fee in need but there is no reason for cancellation. The practice is nothing other than forced usage, which is only beneficial to the data service providers, there is no benefit in this practice at all to the consumers.


  16. Duncan Howard on

    A step in the right direction, but not good enough in my opinion. 10 days for 1 – 50MB is ridiculous and will affect those that can’t afford larger packages the most. I’d say 90 days minimum for any package is much better. The smaller packages cost more per MB, so to also make them expire more quickly cannot be justified.

  17. ranger@mybroadband on

    “Data on your cellphone account is bought and stored for later use just like cash.”

    No, this is not the case.

    Your account *balance* is somewhat like cash, but you cannot directly convert it to cash.

    A “data balance” is specifically *nothing* like cash. It is a promise to provide a specific service according to specific terms and conditions.

  18. ranger@mybroadband on

    “I understand what you are saying, but that is the way data used to work,
    there was never any reason to change it other than profit and
    exploitation in the first place.”

    I would content that the exploitation is in the order-of-magnitude difference in price between small pre-paid data-bundles and out-of-bundle data.

    There is a reason why data-bundles are cheaper than out-of-bundle, the operator can make assumptions about capacity demand on their network, but this only works if the data bundles expire.

    So yes, I believe data bundles should expire, otherwise what is the benefit (to the operator) in offering a lower price on data bundles that OOB?

  19. Danie Duvenage on

    Technically, cash in a bank account is owned by the bank (thus it appears on their balance sheet as such), they have, however, an obligation to repay upon demand. Thus still no difference.
    Danie Duvenage

  20. It’s taken the long enough to do this. It’s been the subject of an ongoing co-jurisdictional wrangle since around 2011 with the Consumer Commission, whose legislation gives prepaid vouchers a three-year lifespan. That’s clearly a problem with prepaid SIMs, given the shortage of numbers, but much less of an issue with data bundles. Glad to see that ICASA is at last acting to protect consumers from rapidly evaporating data. There is, however, a problem with staggering the expiry periods, since the poor, who can least afford to lose their data, are the ones consuming small data bundles with short life-spans…

  21. Danie, banks hold funds/value. A network operator sell you an OBLIGATION to transfer data when you require during a specific month. You do not manufacture data and then “store” it somewhere like money (or the value of the money). Go and think about this again carefully. The only thing that will happen with this directive from Icasa is that it will increase the long term capex requirement by the networks because they will have to plan for a higher headroom now for commitments previously sold – eventually it will keep prices from going down.

  22. Come on Danie, do you honestly want to convince me you think data is somehow manufactured and stored in a box until you knock on your MNO’s door? We are talking about data throughput, not cloud storage space. You pay for the operator to commit to at some stage within the redemption period, transfer data from one location to you or vice versa. This capacity cannot be “held” indefinitely for you. If you cannot train during December of 12 month gym contract, do you automatically demand that your gym extends your contract to January the next month? Good luck with that. If they do they will charge you a levy for a “freeze” facility

  23. Danie Duvenage on


    There is no reason why not. Data can be stored (and it currently is, there is no new tech needed here). Even when numbers are migrated, the remaining data should be transferrable to the new MNO, with a resultant refund to the MNO where the data was purchased. It is a simple transaction on an account statement. MNOs does not want to do this because they make millions out of unused data that are cancelled. Do you think they will be willing to disclose this? If not, why not? I myself have a gigabyte data per month on a contract cellphone and I barely use 150 mb, because I use ADSL at home, which is where I spend most of my time. Yet, I pay for the data. I also have no means of transferring it to someone who might need it and the MNO is all too happy to take my money every month. Imagine if MNOs allowed that, they would make millions less. The data is paid for and the MNO cancels it. Why am I not allowed to use it at my own time or transfer it to my wife or kids? Tis is theft and one of the reasons why the top-up packages are much more popular, it is difficult to be screwed the way that you are screwed on an open contract if the money runs out.

  24. You are confusing flow and stock variables sir. If you bought 1GB of predetermined content at a predetermined web data storage you can have that stock argument. Since you are however expecting non determined web traffic from a dynamic source to be delivered at you command you are in fact buying a flow variable. That flow is a network dimensioning determinant which cannot simply be postponed with zero effect to the network.

  25. Danie Duvenage on

    Barry please declare your interest in the matter? Your arguments clearly and suspiciously show a bias in favour of MNOs and not in favour of consumers.
    Danie Duvenage

  26. 20 years of dimensioning experience. These day I don’t live in SA anymore. I am as passionate as you are about cutting the cost of telecommunication in South Africa. For a start I think the concept of out-of -bundled billing needs to be made patently illegal. But there are aspects of traffic design that are quite tricky to understand. Network headroom is one of the biggest determinants of capital investment. Expected growth together with bought but not redeemed airtime are huge drivers for capacity increase.

  27. Danie Duvenage on

    Good arguments, thanks for them Barry. Consumers tend to win these sort of arguments and corporations often realize the feeling amongst consumers way too late, at their detriment. Time will tell…
    Danie Duvenage

  28. Africa_Failed_by_own_Fathers on

    PLEASE, Let’s make Valuable contributions where it will matter the Most…. Please, send your Input to gmalebusha@icasa.org.za. That is where it will be considered. PLEASE, don’t delay, SEND now.

  29. Arno Van der Walt on

    Charles you are right, this is shocking. The bulk of our population can only afford to buy data in these small bundle sizes, once again ICasa failed to protect the man on the street.

  30. Grant Herringer on

    A positive, albeit slow correction. Why the differentiation in validity according to size of data bundle. What is the rational in this? The point is I have an asset and there is no apparent reason for it to expire, whatsoever. And if there is I would be interested in understanding this.