The United Arab Emirates’ telecom regulator has directed operators Etisalat and du to put a ceiling on their mobile data bundles.
The move is aimed at protecting consumers from ‘unwittingly’ incurring disproportionately higher additional charges, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said in a statement.
Under the new directive, all mobile data bundles – whether included as part of the main subscription or purchased as an optional add-on – will have to be capped.
Once the bundle is exhausted, the licensee cannot supply any further mobile data unless the consumer gives express consent, the TRA said.
The directive will serve as a safety net measure to protect mobile data subscribers from what the TRA called ‘bill shock.’
The authority said in many cases consumers are subjected to disproportionately higher rates as they are not aware of the additional charges incurred once their bundles are all used up.
Etisalat and du were using three options for mobile data:
1. No bundle rate: Usage is charged on a pay-as-you-use basis at the rate of Dhs 1 per MB
2. In bundle rate: Data bundles are available in various sizes, with validity periods ranging from one day to one month. Depending on the particular bundle purchased, the charge for data consumption within the allowance can be as low as Dhs 0.03 per MB
3. Over bundle rate: Prior to the TRA’s new directive, when the consumer’s data consumption exceeded the allowance for a given bundle, the rate of Dhs 1 per MB was applied. Hence if a consumer downloaded e-mails with attachments amounting to 200 MB over the data allowance, the charge would be Dhs 200, which might be higher than the price of the actual data bundle.
The TRA said it considered it to be “somewhat unfair to consumers” for operators to price the over-the-bundle rate at the same level as the no-bundle rate.
TRA director general Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori said: “We are concerned with the potential for consumers to receive larger-than-expected charges for their out-of-bundle mobile data usage. We acknowledge that both Etisalat and du have provided various tools to enable their customers to monitor their data usage and manage their costs. However, we note that not all consumers use such tools.
“It is also inherently difficult to estimate how much data is actually being consumed while, for example, browsing the internet or sending e-mails.
“Consumers may not be aware of the actual costs associated with such mobile data usage and this could lead to ‘bill shock.’ We aim to address the issue once and for all through this new directive,” Al Mansoori added.
Under the new directive, a consumer will not be able use data once the bundle allowance is finished.
Both Etisalat and du can only supply additional data to consumers during this out-of-bundle period if they:
1. Subscribe to another mobile data bundle
2. Opt-in to be charged at an over-bundle rate
3. Specifically instruct their service provider to remove the hard cap.
The operators must record the consent and instructions of their subscribers, the TRA added.
The directive also requires Etisalat and du to ensure that their respective customers are protected against making overlapping subscriptions that would lead to double charging, the TRA said.
Consumers who are currently subscribed to any alternative usage cap mechanisms for mobile data must be migrated to the hard cap mechanism. However, those subscribers can be provided with an option to opt-out of the hard cap in favour of their existing cap, the TRA added.
The regulator also urged Etisalat and du to 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.