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Safaricom, Airtel sued over data expiry losses

A Safaricom shop in Nairobi
A Safaricom shop in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Telecoms operators Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya have been sued over the expiry of data and loss of unused Internet bundles.

Lawyer and ICT practitioner Adrian Kamotho has sued the firms and the industry regulator at the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal.

He wants the three operators compelled to offer a service where subscribers can roll over unused data at no costs.

The operators’ data bundles have daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly expiry periods and subscribers can extend their respective terms by buying new data ahead of termination.

Mr Kamotho wants the tribunal to issue an order to stop the loss of unused data bundles after the expiry date.

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“That an order directing the respondents to enable active subscribers to roll over used data at all times,” says the court petition.

“That an order directing the respondents to enable consumers to transfer unused data to other users on the same network.”

Mr Kamotho is borrowing from the South Africa experience where the telecom regulator in February issued new rules that demand operators must let customers roll over unused data.

Vodacom, which owns 35 percent of Safaricom, was forced to backpedal on its plan to charge customers to roll over expiring data following outrage from consumers.

South Africa’s regulatory rules also state that licensees will no longer be allowed to charge out-of-bundle rates for data when it is depleted — unless they have the consumer’s consent.

Out-of-bundle rates apply when data expires and operators start deducting cash from airtime for data usage—which tend to be expensive compared to in-bundle rates.

“The automatic switch of consumers whose bundles run out to out-of-bundle rates is fraudulent to the extent that consumers are unexpectedly thrust to forcible expenditure without being accorded an opportunity to give or decline consent,” said Mr Kamotho.

“Enormous price gap between in-bundle and out-of-bundle is evidently exploitative and discriminatory.”

He wants the tribunal to issue orders barring the application of differing prices for in-bundle and out-of-bundle costs.

The petitioner wants the operators to seek subscribers’ consent before switching them to out-of-bundle rates.

Mr Kamotho said Regulations 3 of the Kenya Information and Communications (Consumer Protection) Regulations, 2010, accords customers the right to receive clear and complete information about rates, terms and conditions for available and proposed products and services.

He wants the tribunal to order the operators to issue alerts informing subscribers that their data is about to expire, arguing the notices should be issued when unused data is at 75 percent, 50 percent, 25 percent and 0 percent. Safaricom issues notifications 48 hours before the bundle expires.

Telecom operators have recently invested billiosn on the networks, especially fourth generation (4G), in the quest to increase usage of data services.

The 4G technology gives users faster speeds and eliminates buffering when downloading video clips.

Data accounted for 19.5 percent of Safaricom’s Sh240.3 billion sales in the year to March, up from 10.3 percent five years ago.

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