By Staff Writers

Maseru, March 24 (The Night’s Watch) – Lesotho Communication Authority (LCA) announced on Monday that it has requested Econet Telecom Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho to stop deducting data costs from customers’ call accounts when their data bundles get depleted.

If these Lesotho’s only two communications service providers want to deduct costs from their customers’ call accounts, LCA said they must first get customers’ specific consent.

This is done to ensure that consumers are not defaulted to out-of-bundle data charges which are significantly higher than in-bundle charges.

“LCA has issued a directive that the two mobile network operators, Econet Telecom Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho, should implement mechanisms for stopping service for customers who had opted for in-bundle charging when such bundles get depleted unless there is prior express consent from consumers that they could be charged out-of-bundle rates,” LCA announced on Twitter.

“The Authority has given the operators a period of 30 days to implement the said mechanisms,” it added.

This comes about 18 months after Public Eye journalist, Kananelo Boloetse, wrote to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LCA protesting that Econet and Vodacom should not be allowed to deduct charges from customers’ call accounts when their data bundles get depleted or expire.

In his letter dated October 17, 2018, Boloetse asked LCA to use its authority to ensure that Econet and Vodacom “do not profiteer on the backs of the technologically illiterate consumers who use smartphones but never buy data bundles”.

“These are people who cannot even be aware when mobile data is turned-on on their phones but are charged out of bundle rates for the internet service they never use. This is indisputably prejudicial to these users, most of which are poor or very old.

“I understand the authority has the duty to, in line with section 4 (e) of the Communications Act, 2012, protect the interests of consumers of communication services,” he said.

Boloetse also asked LCA to direct Econet and Vodacom to allow users to roll over their data upon expiry so that consumers do not lose unused data as is the current practice and also allow users to transfer data to each other provided they are on the same network.

LCA did not hesitate to respond to Boloetse’s letter.

On October 26, 2018, LCA wrote a letter informing Boloetse that “LCA is already seized with the issues raised in your letter in the interest of protecting communication consumers”.

“However, you will note that the communications markets in Lesotho and South Africa are not the similar in terms of products, levels of competition and conventions of handling issues hence the adoption of solutions for South Africa may not be the best option,” LCA said.

It added that when the process “is complete, you will be in the position to know such outcomes”.

Boloetse then took the fight straight to Econet and Vodacom.

He wrote the two companies letters on October 30, 2018.

He said: “I write this letter to find out from you (managers of Econet and Vodacom respectively) if your companies would want to be forced by law or regulations to:

 Stop deducting data costs from your customers’ call accounts when their data has run out without the consumers’ specific prior consent;

 Allow your customers to transfer data to each other;

 Allow your customers to roll over data when it expires so that they don’t lose their unused data;

 Come up with new time frames for the expiry of data bundles, with the shortest being 10 days for bundles between 1MB and 50MB?”

Boloetse also added that: “I believe as a civilized society, our first line of defense is not the law, police or courts but customs, traditions and moral values. We should never be seen to be allowing laws to replace common decency.”

The Night’s Watch could not establish today whether the two companies cared to respond to Boloetse’s letters. NW

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