More freedom for cellphone users

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Consumers will soon be able to take up a six-month cellphone contract once a new regulation by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) comes into effect.

Icasa spokesman Sekgoela Sekgoela said the move would protect consumers and allow for more flexibility and choice in choosing a cellphone package.

He said: "We consulted the cellular operators and allowed them to make their presentations, but at the end of the day, we've set the regulations with only the consumer in mind.

"People don't want to be tied into long contracts. We've specified in the regulations that operators must provide clarity as to how much of the price in the package goes to the price of the handset and how much for services," Sekgoela said.

The regulation will come into effect around August 17. This is to give operators a grace period of two months since the publication on June 17.

Cellular operators could introduce higher tariffs as a penalty for taking on a shorter time, according to Tshepo Tsele, Paperless Consulting director. "Just because it's a shorter period does not mean you will pay less. We'll have to see what packages the operators bring out," said Tsele.

Cell C is the only operator not affected as the company already has both a one-month and a month-to-month contract option.

Tertia Smit, senior telecoms analyst at IT research firm BMI-T said that the introduction of the regulations would not have a significant effect on the number of people using contracts.

"People who are using prepaid subscriptions often don't qualify for contracts. There are already hybrid contracts which people find more attractive," Smit said.