Mobile subscribers will be less susceptible to exorbitant bills following a directive by the telecoms regulator urging companies to put caps on mobile data usage.
This week, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) issued a directive ordering Etisalat and du, the country’s sole providers of mobile services, “to put a ceiling, or hard cap, on their respective mobile data bundles in a bid to protect consumers from unwittingly incurring disproportionately higher additional charges.”
The directive applies to all mobile data bundles – whether included in a monthly plan, purchased as an add-on to a plan or bought through a pay-as-you-go arrangement – and forces operators to limit the supply of data available to the size of the bundle, reported Wam, the state news agency.
Previously, when data consumption exceeded the amount specified in a bundle, charges would be incurred at a rate of Dh1 per megabyte. This was well above bundled rates that can be as low as 3 fils per megabyte, the TRA said.
With the cap, once the bundle is exhausted, operators cannot supply additional data unless a subscriber gives “express consent”.
The regulator said it was concerned that subscribers can be unaware that they have used all of their data, and considered it to be “somewhat unfair” for them to be charged a rate more than 32 times higher for data that exceeds their limit.
It also said in many cases subscribers are not aware of the higher rates or additional charges when they exceed their limit.
Under the new arrangement, when subscribers have used up all of their data, Etisalat and du will only be able to supply more if they purchase an additional bundle, or if they instruct their provider to remove the hard cap.
Operators must record the consent and instructions of their subscribers, the TRA said.
Consumers currently subscribed to any alternative usage cap mechanism for mobile data must be migrated to the hard cap mechanism, and still be given the option to opt out, the TRA said.
The TRA said the moves are intended to protect mobile subscribers from “bill shock”.
“We are concerned with the potential for consumers to receive larger-than-expected charges for their out-of-bundle mobile data usage,” said Hamad Al Mansoori, director general of the TRA.
“We aim to address the issue once and for all through this new directive.”
The director general acknowledged that both operators have tools available to monitor data usage, but customers who were not using them and many already have difficulty monitoring their usage.
The TRA also urged Etisalat and du to design and introduce pricing plans that are more fair to the consumer by charging lower rates for over-bundle data than the rates charged for no-bundle data.