The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has published draft amendments to the End-User and Subscriber Charter Regulations, which will help mobile users avoid bill shock while roaming internationally.
International roaming is often a source of grief for mobile users who are caught unaware with extremely high data charges that can reach up to R300,000 per gigabyte.
Mobile operators have previously explained that they are not to blame for these exorbitant rates, and that they merely pass on the rate which is charged by foreign operators.
However, local operators also charge international travellers high data roaming costs, which means that they help perpetuate the practice of exorbitant roaming costs.
Now Icasa has published draft regulations for comment, which would see mobile operators taking some responsibility for informing subscribers of roaming fees, and keeping them constantly updated about their data usage.
Notably, the proposals do not seek to deal with or structure the actual pricing, but at least will require mobile operators to present users with opt-in and opt-out functionality for roaming.
According to the proposed regulations, operators must send a welcome message to all end-users roaming internationally via SMS with the following information:
- Toll-free voice, SMS and e-mail customer care contact details;
- Voicemail retrieval number and applicable rates;
- Roaming networks available upon arrival in a foreign country;
- Charges applicable to incoming and outgoing voice, data and incoming and outgoing SMS;
- An opt-in or opt out service that allows the consumer to demonstrate their decision to roam or stop roaming;
- A real time roaming usage updates;
- Regular updates of at least once every 24 hours, on the level of usage; current account balance; and remaining amount of data in relation to any applicable usage cap; and
- The operator must send a summary of the terms and conditions for roaming via SMS, and a link to the section on the operator’s website that sets out the terms and conditions for international roaming.
The proposed regulations will also require operators to explain all of this in “simple terms”.
The draft regulations also give consumers a bit of breathing room when it comes to billing complaints.
When end-users lodge billing complaints under the proposed regulations, operators will not be able to disconnect services while an investigation into the complaint is pending.
Further, operators won’t be allowed to send users’ data to third party collection agencies or charge interest during the investigation.
Of course, end users must still continue paying their subscription and usage charges while the investigation is going on – only the bill in dispute may be withheld.
The draft regulations are currently open for public comment.