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When free isn't

By unknown | Mar 13, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

If you're one of those people who signs forms without reading everything that's written on them, be aware that you might be signing away your hard-earned cash.

Switching cellphone networks and service providers while keeping your cellphone number is one example.

Remember the excitement when Mobile Number Portability (MNP) became a reality in November?

We could have an 082 number and be on the Cell C or MTN network, or vice versa, while keeping our cellphone number.

It was all very liberating and empowering for cellphone users. But most people did not know about the pitfalls and financial implications of porting.

But consumer bodies warn that there are indeed implications when it comes to porting.

Wendy Knowler, of Consumer Watch, says that though there are relatively few porting pitfalls for prepaid subscribers, the same can't be said for post-paid or contract subscribers.

Though there's nothing to stop you from porting to a new network, or new service provider on the same network, if your two-year contract is still in effect - even if it is only weeks or days from expiring - you could land up being asked to pay several thousand rands by your previous network or service provider, says Knowler.

Since the porting process is driven by the network or service provider you want to port, Knowler says that technically you don't have to deal with your existing provider - the donor - to make the port happen.

Though the recipient service provider is obliged, in terms of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) code of practice for MNP, to tell you that you might still be financially obligated to your existing contract, it is not in the recipient's interests to do so, says Knowler.

The Icasa code states that when someone asks to port, they must fill out a port request form, on which they must specifically acknowledge - with a signature - that they've been advised that they might still be liable for a contract with the network or service provider they are porting from.

Icasa has, however, acknowledged that not enough has been done to educate consumers about the full financial implications of porting where contracts are involved.

In other words, the regulator's awareness campaign hasn't extended much beyond Johannesburg, and certainly couldn't hope to counter the networks' big-budget splash adverts, which have made porting sound so hassle-free.

Service providers on the other hand, hide behind the small print saying they may not, according to the regulations, contact the donor to discuss any of these issues.

They are only obliged to inform the customer that they will be liable in terms of the existing contracts and everything is contained in the small-print document they sign.

You have to give your service provider written notice of cancellation - and check your contract because notice periods range from one to three months.

That "free" phone and those "free" goodies you got when you signed up are not actually free.

Knowler says porting even a week before your contract expires could cost you thousands in cash.

"If you take up an offer of an 'early upgrade' those remaining months on your contract are not cancelled," Knowler cautions.

"You are still liable to pay those few months' subscriptions should you later decide to port or cancel." - Consumer Watch


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