New data regulations: What cellphone users need to know to stay connected

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The new data regulations which come into effect at the end of the month will give consumers far more power over the way they use their data bundles, but those who don’t opt-in to out-of-data bundle charges in advance will find themselves suddenly cut off when their bundles run out.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's (Icasa) February 2019 End-User and Subscriber Service Charter (EUSSC) amendment regulations, which were initially supposed to come into effect last June, seek to give consumers some relief against expiry of their paid-for data, as well as bill shock due to lack of transparency on out-of-bundle charges.

From February 28, there will be no automatic rolling over to out-of-bundle data charges when bundles run out - users will have to pro-actively opt in to out-of-bundle data charges in order to stay connected, even if airtime is available or they are on a contract.

“We’re expecting to get a lot of calls from subscribers from the end of the month, complaining that they can’t get connected and thinking it’s a network problem,” said Cell C's chief commercial officer Junaid Munshi.

If subscribers - pre-paid, top-up or contract - choose to opt-in to out-of-bundle billing, they can set their limit on their phone to control their spend.

The amendments compels cellphone operators to send usage depletion notifications to consumers of data, voice and SMSs at prescribed deletion points - 20%, 50% and 100%.

Another tool to avoid losing your data to that controversial “expiry” practice of the networks will also be available from the end of the month: the option to roll over unused data before the date of expiry. The operators will have to allow for that rolled-over data to be used first, until it is depleted, before any allocated data is used.

Subscribers will also be able to transfer data to other users on the same network.

Having headed to the South Gauteng High Court last year to argue that it was impossible for the network operators to implement the amendment regulations in June 2018, with just one month’s notice, Cell C became fully compliant with all the regulations a few days before Christmas.

"Our biggest concern right now is that people aren’t going to opt in for out-of-bundle data and be hugely inconvenienced when they find themselves cut off," Munshi said.

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