Guiding consumers since 2009

The great cell phone rip off

By Staff Writer
Cell phone companies made the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Vodacom and CellC have announced price increases, and MTN has been directed by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to “immediately cease collection of the $0.25” (approximately R3) per minute termination fee for incoming international calls.
 
Are cell phone companies ripping customers off? Justmoney looks at the regulations around cell phone charges, as well as alternatives to traditional phone calls.
 
Excessive termination fees for international calls
 
In November 2014, mobile network provider MTN increased the termination fee for international inbound calls to approximately R3 per minute. This means that overseas callers placing a call to an MTN user in South Africa will pay R3 per minute, which is much more than the termination fee stipulated by the Independent Communications Authority Of South Africa (ICASA) "Call Termination Regulations, 2014".
 
The Call Termination Regulations 2014 states that from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2015 termination rates to a mobile location are R0.20. While termination rates to a fixed location WON (within an on network geographic area code specified in the Numbering Plan Regulations) are R0.12, and termination rates to a fixed location BON (between on network geographic codes as specified in the Numbering Plan Regulations) are R0.15.
 
This means that for international caller phoning a South African mobile network users (regardless of the network provider) a termination fee of R0.20 should be charged.
 
In a press statement released on 20 March 2015, ICASA stated: “1.1.  The Call Termination Regulations, Government Gazette No. 38042 of 30 September 2014 (“the Regulations”) make no distinction between termination services for voice calls originating within and outside of the borders of South Africa. 

“1.2. The service offered by MTN to other licensed operators constitutes termination services as defined in terms of the Regulations.

“1.3.  By charging a different rate for termination between licensed operators in the manner that it has, MTN is in breach of the non-discrimination principles as per section 37 (6) of the Electronic Communications Act. ”
 
(To view the amendment to section 37 (6) of the Electronic Communications Act, see section 19(b) of the Electronic Communications Amendment Act, 2014 (Act No. 1 of 2014).)
 
Cell phone contracts
 
Unfortunately if you want out of your contract it will prove a difficult endeavour. And the Consumer Protection Act of 2008 is so vague and untested that it provides little protection, for now. The CPA states that a supplier (in this case the network providers), cannot offer or enter an agreement that is priced or with terms that are “unfair, unreasonable or unjust.”
 
Furthermore, the agreement or contract cannot be one-sided, meaning that it cannot be to the benefit of only the service provider or only the consumer. As well as not offer a “term, condition or notice [that] is unfair, unreasonable, unjust or unconscionable.”
 
The CPA allows for service providers to charge a reasonable cancellation fee in the case of a contract being prematurely terminated. Unfortunately, no standard cancellation fee applies, leaving the word “reasonable” open to interpretation.
 
This means that although you may view the cancellation fee that your cell phone provider demands to be excessive, there is currently no legislation that stipulates what they can or should charge.
 
However, consumers have a right to a cooling-off period after agreeing to a contract. According to the CPA, consumers have five working days after signing up to a service if they were made aware of the deal as result of a direct marketing campaign to rescind a contract without reason or penalty. Cancellation of the contract must be presented in writing to the service provider.
 
If no direct marketing applies, you can cancel a service within seven days after the date of the conclusion of the agreement, according to the CPA. Direct marketing would be entering into an agreement or contract after seeing a deal or promotion advertised.
 
Alternatives to traditional phone calls
 
Cancelling a cell phone contract can be a costly and time consuming process due to the paperwork and procedures that you have to go through. If you can’t get out you can reduce the costs by using a few alternatives to using traditional means of communication.
 
Rather than eat up your airtime, these apps make use of your data, and can end up saving you in the long run.
 
WhatsApp Calling:This is currently only available on Android phones and the BlackBerry 10. The website states: “WhatsApp Calling uses your phone’s Internet connection rather than your cellular plan’s voice minutes. Data charges may apply.” This means that if you are connected to Wi-Fi at the time of the call, it will not use your cell phone data.
 
To make a WhatsApp Call you simply have to open the chat with the contact you wish to phone and tap on the phone icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen.
 
When receiving a WhatsApp Call, “you will see an incoming WhatsApp call screen.” This will give you the option to either accept or reject the call. You also have the option to tap on the message icon “to decline the call with a quick message.”
 
*While WhatsApp messages are free on Cell C, WhatsApp calls will use data.
 
BBM Voice:This also makes use of data rather than your minutes or airtime, allowing you to make phone calls via the BBM app, which is available on all BlackBerry phones, as well as for Android, iPhone and Windows Phones.
 
WeChat:This is another communication app that is available for download on Android, iPhone, Windows and BlackBerry phones. As with WhatsApp and BBM, this app allows you to make calls (Free Call) to people who also have WeChat installed on their phones via the app, using data rather than airtime.
 
Viber:Available for iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry phones, Viber allows you to make video and voice calls using 3G or WiFi, saving on your airtime. According to the website, you can “Call non-Viber mobile or landline numbers at low rates with Viber Out.”
 
Skype: This can be used on computers and cell phones. You can call family and friends who have Skype on their cell phone at much lower rates than making a conventional phone call, making use of your data rather than your airtime.
 
Line: This app allows you to exchange free messages with family and friends who have the app, as well as make phone calls using your data. It is available for iPhone, Android, WindowsPhone and Blackberry.
 
To view the international calling rates for cell phone users in South Africa, click on the links below. The charges differ according to the country you are phoning.
·         Vodacom
·         MTN
·         CellC
·         Telkom Mobile

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