Vodacom’s fees and the complex set of rules related to its implementation of Icasa’s data expiry regulations are hellishly confusing, are anti-consumer and ultimately represent an own goal by South Africa’s largest mobile operator.
TechCentral reported on Monday that Vodacom will comply with the communications regulator’s new mobile data rules by the deadline of this Thursday, 28 February. But, going against the spirit of the regulations — which are meant to protect consumers — the company has introduced rules that are so complicated that the ordinary Vodacom customer cannot reasonably be expected to understand them.
That may be what Vodacom hoped to achieve, minimising the financial impact of the regulations in the process, but the move risks driving its customers into the arms of rivals that haven’t chosen to make the rules utterly confusing, especially Telkom, which has taken a vastly more pro-consumer approach in implementing them.
Let’s have a look at what Vodacom is proposing to do to comply with the new rules.
It will charge users to roll over data beyond their expiry date. Though Icasa didn’t stipulate that the rollover should be free, many consumers took the regulations to mean just that. Icasa could probably be faulted for not making this explicit in the rules, though it was probably mindful of not wanting to craft regulations that could have unintended consequences for the pricing of mobile data services (potentially pushing up data bundle prices, for example).
What’s more, different fees will apply to Vodacom users, depending on the size of the bundle remaining. The rollover of data bundles with a validity greater than one day will attract the following charges, Vodacom said: bundle size remaining less than 100MB — R5; 100MB up to 250MB — R12; 250MB to 500MB — R19; 500MB to 1GB — R29; and over 1GB — R49.
Short-duration data bundles will also attract additional charges for rollover. All hourly bundles can be rolled over at a cost of R10, while all daily bundles will attract a rollover fee of R25. Customers can roll over their remaining data in the following cases: data bundles with validity of 24 hours or less are applicable for rollover immediately and data bundles with validity greater than 24 hours are applicable for rollover when there are three days or less remaining for bundle usage.
Confused yet? Unfortunately, it gets worse.
All hourly bundles can be rolled over for an additional hour, while all daily bundles can be rolled over for an additional day. All weekend bundles (data bundles valid for use only on Saturday and Sunday) can be rolled over for an additional weekend. Fair enough. But all data bundles with a validity greater than 24 hours can be rolled over for an additional seven days only. Data bundles can be rolled over multiple times. This is headache-inducing stuff.
And the fees may yet change. After TechCentral first reported on the rollover fees on Monday, Vodacom pulled a page on its website where it detailed the charges and said it was reviewing the pricing. New pricing might be communicated to customers before the deadline to implement the regulations later this week. Or perhaps not.
And the above rules only deal with data rollover.
The new Icasa rules — formally known as the end-user subscriber service charter regulations — state that operators must:
- Offer data rollover to customers, though Icasa has left to the companies to determine how long that period of rollover should be;
- Send usage depletion notifications to consumers once they have used 50%, 80% and 100% of their bundles;
- Ensure that out-of-bundle data is explicitly opt-in only — consumers must not automatically be defaulted to out-of-bundle rates when their bundles are depleted; and
- Provide an option to offer unused data to other users on the same network.
Vodacom customers will be able to transfer data that is about to expire to friends and family on the Vodacom network, too, in line with the regulations. But a fee applies here, too — the company has not revealed what the charges will be. And consumers can only do a data transfer “closer to the expiration date”. Asked what this means, Vodacom said hourly and daily bundles can be transferred immediately, while all other data bundles can be transferred when there are three days or less remaining before their expiry. Wow, thanks, guys!
The upshot of all of this is that these new rules — clearly crafted by actuaries and accountants with an eye on Vodacom’s bottom line and with little thought given to what it means for clients — is that many consumers are going to be left confused and angry and considering their alternatives.
Telkom has shown how to implement these regulations in a consumer-friendly manner. Rollover is automatic and free, with the period of rollover determined by the package they subscribe to. Data transfer to other Telkom users is also simple, and there are no rules preventing its customers from sharing their data with friends and family at any time they want and at no cost.
With Telkom users set to begin roaming on Vodacom’s robust and widespread 2G, 3G and 4G infrastructure soon — Telkom’s existing 2G and 3G roaming agreement with MTN expires in mid-2019 — the company’s simpler and more consumer-friendly rules must make it look like an increasingly attractive proposition. — © 2019 NewsCentral Media
- Duncan McLeod is editor of TechCentral