Telecommunication giant MTN has been fined R5 million ($340,000) for not observing the required notice period before increasing the price of its 1GB WhatsApp data bundle. The fine was issued by South Africa’s ICASA Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC).
According to the regulatory body whose acronyms stand for
Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, MTN was found to have breached regulation 9 of the standard terms and conditions by not giving notice at least seven days before changing the price of its monthly 1GB WhatsApp data bundle to R30.
The ICASA committee stated that the two working days notice given by MTN was not acceptable.
However, MTN has explained that the price hike on the WhatsApp bundle was forced by an extraordinary increase in the demand for MTN’s 3G network which could have caused a potential disaster.
MTN South Africa Executive for Corporate Affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan, said that since the launch of the monthly WhatsApp bundle of 1GB for R10 in 2018 the rise in WhatsApp usage on the network increased.
The public’s response was exceptional. WhatsApp usage on the MTN network increased by 300% in just eight weeks.Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN South Africa Executive for Corporate Affairs
She added that an unintended consequence of rolling out the R10 WhatsApp bundle was the extraordinary increase in demand for the 3G network.
The CCC acknowledged that MTN had made a difficult choice given the circumstance. In their ruling, they expressed an understanding of the technical risk the heavy demand had caused but went ahead to fine the telco.
The earlier implementation of the price increase was forced by technical risks whose eventual occurrence could have been catastrophic. The volume of traffic on the WhatsApp bundle was unprecedented, and thus it presented novel challenges to MTN.Extract from ICASA’s Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) ruling on MTN
MTN is fighting back
MTN has decided to appeal the fine by fighting the decision in the High Court. The Telecom Company said that it had examined the content of the ruling and is not pleased, arguing that the penalty applied should be proportionate to the transgression considering the circumstance.
However, O’Sullivan says MTN is committed to compliance and maintaining good relationships with all stakeholders.
MTN is committed to compliance and to maintaining good relationships with all stakeholders and the decision to proceed, without some sort of ICASA-issued condonation, was not made lightly.Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN South Africa Executive for Corporate Affairs
O’Sullivan also acknowledges that MTN was aware of ICASA’s timing.
The ICASA fine comprises a total of R5 million of which R2 million is suspended for three years following the date of the ruling. With MTN deciding to fight the ruling, and the peculiar circumstances acknowledged by both parties, the fine will have to be decided in court.
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