Frequently asked questions

What is ICASA?

ICASA is an acronym for the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. ICASA was established in July 2000 as a merger of the Telecommunications Regulators Association of Southern Africa and the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

What does ICASA do?

ICASA regulates the electronic communications, broadcasting and postal industries in the public interest. Its key functions are to:

  • Make regulations and policies that govern electronic communications, broadcasting, and postal industries
  • Issue licenses to providers of electronic communications services, broadcasters and postal services
  • Monitor the environment and enforce compliance with rules, regulations and policies
  • Hear and decide on disputes and complaints brought by the industry or members of the public against licensees
  • Plan, control and manage the frequency spectrum
  • Protect consumers from unfair business practices, poor quality services and harmful or inferior products

What are the principal laws regulating the electronic communications sector in South Africa?

The Electronic Communications Act, No. 36 of 2005 (the "ECA"), is the principal law regulating electronic communications. Amongst other matters, this law deals with the role of the regulator, the licensing of electronic communications services and systems, broadcasting services, the obligations of authorised service providers, the protection of users and subscribers, the power to make regulations and penalties incurred for breaches of the relevant legislation.

The ICASA Act, No. 13 of 2000 (as amended), deals with the establishment of ICASA and detailing its functions.

What is a licensee?

A licensee is a person issued with a licence by ICASA to provide the following services:

  • Electronic communications network services
  • Electronic communications services offered to the public
  • Broadcasting services
  • Postal services

What is the difference between a licensee and a service provider?

A licensee is a person issued with a licence by ICASA to provide the following services:

  • Electronic communications network services
  • Electronic communications services offered to the public 
  • Broadcasting services

A service provider, on the other hand, can be one of the following:

  • An entity that sells to a subscriber the ability to make and receive telephone calls
  • A network operator
  • An entity or person buying network services from a network operator and reselling these services to consumers
  • Postal services

Which service provider should I choose?

All individuals have the right to choose the service provider that they prefer or like. Before deciding on a mobile operator, one needs to consider the following:

Network coverage

Reception or coverage in your area is an important factor. There are a few things you can do to find out whether a phone will work properly in your area. Start by talking to friends, family, and neighbours about the provider/s they're using and whether they are satisfied with their service. Additionally, most service providers have coverage maps you can use to make sure you're covered in the areas where you need coverage.

Cost of service

  • Cost of calls. Check how many free calls you can make during a month and whether you carry unused credit over to the next month
  • Cost of text messages (SMSs). Ask yourself: how much do I get charged for this service and how much do I get charged when sending text messages to other network operators? 
  • Cost of handset. Find out from the mobile operator if the handset is free or not, compare prices with those of other network operators, check what the features are and determine whether you need them or not as they often come at an extra cost.
  • Cost of downloading data. If you will be using data, verify what it will cost to download. 
  • Cost of handset insurance. Check with the mobile operator whether the package you choose comes with free insurance or not. If not, get insurance details and the costs associated with it.

How calls are charged

It is important to know how your service provider charges you for calls. Calls are usually charged in one of the following ways:

  • Unit based. The duration is calculated in units. Units may differ from one service provider to another and from one network to another (i.e. fixed or mobile network). 
  • Second based. Calls are charged according to the seconds spent on each call.
  • Minute based. The call duration is rounded to the next minute. For example, if your call lasted 1 minute and 15 seconds, it will be charged as 2 minutes.

It is also important to note that different times of the day are charged differently. Most service providers divide the day into peak and off-peak periods and peak periods will have a higher charge. Sometimes there's a cost difference between weekday and weekend call rates. Make sure you ask your service provider about this so you know how much you'll pay for calls.

Quality of service

You might also want to check whether the mobile phone company has a good reputation for customer service. Ask your friends and family for recommendations. Find out how easy or difficult it is to get through to a company if you have a customer service query. 

Choice of handset

Operators sell a variety of mobile phones that work with their service and sometimes they offer free or discounted phones as part of their promotions. When choosing a phone, ask yourself the following:

  • Does this handset give me all the features I need, for example, caller identity and Internet services?
  • Is it the size phone I want?
  • Will I be paying for a lot of features and specifications I won't use?
  • Is it easy to use? Is the keypad easy to use?
  • Can the phone be repaired or replaced if something goes wrong?
  • Can the phone be repaired or replaced if I lose it or if it is stolen?
  • Do I need to get the phone insured and how much will that cost?

Your budget

It is important to consider your budget before choosing a service provider and package. Some providers are more expensive than others, and you don't want to get yourself in over your head. You will probably be getting yourself into a one- or two-year contract and you should be financially responsible. 

What are my rights as a user of electronic communications services or products?

Some of your rights are enshrined in the service agreement entered into between yourself and the service provider. Ensure that you read and understand the agreement before you sign it. The service agreement may also be enshrined in conditions of sale in a SIM pack for pre-paid customers.

However, there are a number of rights that may not be contained in the service agreements, including:

  • Provision of information: You have the right to receive clear and complete information about rates and conditions for available and proposed products and services from service providers
  • Right to choose: You have a right to affirmatively select a service provider and service that you like
  • Right to privacy: You have a lawful choice to personal privacy, which should be protected against unauthorised access to or use of personal conversation or information
  • Right to quality service: You have the right to high-quality, reliable service
  • Timely, accurate bills and redress: You have the right to accurate and understandable bills for services consumed and to fair, prompt redress for problems related to bills or that may arise during the use of services
  • Lodging a complaint: You have a right to make a complaint with your service provider

Can my service provider change the terms and conditions of my contract?

Your service provider may wish to change the terms and conditions of its service, including changes to the prices it charges. By law it may do so but it must notify you of the changes within a fair and reasonable time.

What is the difference between a prepaid and post-paid contract?

Prepaid contract

Prepaid mobile services are also known as "pay as you go". With pre-paid, calls are usually more expensive as there's no monthly rental and you won't get an itemised bill showing the calls you have made. You do not risk running up a large bill that you might find difficult to pay. A pre-paid user can add more credit to the pre-paid account anytime. Here are a few advantages of using a pre-paid contract:

  • No binding contract
  • No monthly bill
  • No credit checks
  • No deposit needed
  • No activation fees

Post-paid contract

With post-paid, a user enters into a long-term billing arrangement with a service provider. The user in this case is billed according to the use of mobile services at the end of each month. The calls are usually less expensive but you pay monthly rental. You get full information about your calls. When entering into a contract, make sure you ask your service provider about the call-limit facility. This is a facility, offered on request, whereby the service provider sets a limit for monthly usage.

What is meant by virtual airtime agreements or contracts?

Virtual airtime agreements are agreements entered into between prepaid customers and service providers in which a prepaid customer gives the service provider consent to debit his/her bank account in exchange for airtime. The loading of airtime is done on a month-to-month basis. This service is said to be the one option where prepaid customers are offered contract rates without having to enter into a contract. The customer gets to choose the date on which the phone should be loaded with airtime. The airtime can only be loaded once the service provider has deducted money from the customer's account for the purchase of such airtime. The agreements are concluded verbally over the telephone without the customer having to read the terms and conditions of such a service.

What is meant by verbal contracts?

Verbal agreements are as binding as written ones. If one agrees verbally to a contract, the conditions of that contract can be enforced as if you have signed it. So if you are asked to agree verbally to any mobile phone service contract, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions before agreeing to it. Also ask for written confirmation of any verbal agreement.

What should I make sure of when taking out mobile phone insurance?  

Some service providers offer insurance for mobile phones if you sign a service network-connection agreement (contract) with them. Generally mobile phone insurance covers loss, accidental damage and theft. However, sometimes the insurance does not cover the mobile phone if it is damaged or stolen when left unattended. Always read the terms and conditions and check the insurance policy for:

  • Exceptions/exclusions (circumstances under which a claim will not be paid)
  • Cancellation fees
  • The cost of premiums (monthly payments you need to make to continue to have insurance cover)
  • An excess that may apply to claims (the part of the total cost of a claim that you will have to pay)
  • Warranties/guarantees

What is a mobile phone warranty or guarantee?

A warranty or guarantee is a promise that a product or service sold to you will do the job that it's supposed to do. Handset manufacturers will guarantee their handsets against any faults occurring within a specified period and network service providers guarantee connection to the mobile phone network.

A warranty may allow you to return something you bought and get a refund, replacement or repair if the item:

  • Is defective or faulty
  • Doesn't match the sample or description that you were shown
  • Doesn't do what the seller said it would do

You will need to show the seller proof of purchase (a receipt or the network service connection agreement) and notify the seller as soon as you notice a problem.

It is important to always read the warranty/guarantee terms and conditions before signing the insurance policy.

What is meant by call-limit facility?

A call-limit facility is offered to post-paid subscribers by service providers in South Africa. It is a call-limit service that allows service providers to assign an airtime limit to a contract phone account. Once the assigned or allocated airtime limit is reached, the service provider blocks the service. The service then becomes suspended or barred, which means that the user won't be able to make any outgoing calls, send SMSs, or use outbound services, including free minutes, free SMSs etc. This facility is aimed at minimising extra, unexpected costs and bad debt.

It's important to note the following regarding this facility:

  • It is subscribers' responsibility to request their own call limit
  • The call-limit facility should be taken as guidance and it's no guarantee that upon reaching one's bill limit, the service will be immediately cut off or suspended
  • Although the service is offered, there's a possibility that the line will not be softlocked on time or at all and that you could be billed above the specified limit. As customer, you will still be liable for all the charges

What is a SIM card?

SIM is short for subscriber identity module, a removable memory card that can be put into any compatible GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) handset, permitting the user to keep the same number while changing handsets. A SIM card carries vital details and information of the subscriber, security data, and memory to store personal numbers. The information stored on the SIM card helps the network service provider to recognise the caller.

Is ICASA responsible for the regulation of premium-rate services?

No, the Wireless Application Service Providers' Association (WASPA) is an independent, non-profit organisation representing the interests of organisations providing mobile-application services in South Africa. The association aims to provide a neutral forum for members to address issues of common interest and interact with industry stakeholders, network operators and government bodies. WASPA aims to ensure that end users receive world-class services and industry participants earn a fair return on their investments. WASPA operates a strict code of conduct, which is binding on all members and contains accepted procedures to be followed in the event of a complaint lodged against any WASPA member.

What is mobile-number portability?

Mobile-number portability was first introduced to the South African cellular market on 10 November 2006, giving consumers the freedom and ability to change their service provider or network without having to change their cell phone number. The aim of introducing this service was to increase the level of competition among mobile operators and provide consumers with more choices.

What are my contractual obligations when I make use of the mobile-number portability service?

When you use mobile-number portability, your mobile service with your existing service provider is cancelled. However, it is important to note that although your existing service is cancelled, your contract with your existing service provider may or may not have been cancelled. This means that you may still have to pay out your contract, pay a fee for early termination, or pay all call charges. Alternatively, you may choose to wait for your existing contract to expire before changing service providers.

What consumer safeguards protect me as a consumer in the electronic communications sector?

In enforcing consumer protection, ICASA has developed a number of regulations focusing on conduct by licensees, which affects large number of consumers. The following regulations were developed:

  • Regulations on the Code of Conduct for licensees. These set acceptable standards of conduct for licensees in respect of consumers in order to protect the rights of consumers
  • Code on People with Disabilities. These regulations set standards with regard to the provision of services and products by all licensees licensed in terms of the Electronic Communications Act
  • Mobile Number Portability Regulations. These regulations allow consumers to switch from one service provider to another without changing their numbers
  • Handset Subsidy Regulations. These are regulations developed by ICASA to protect consumers from being locked into long-term post-paid contracts with mobile operators

What is the Consumer Advisory Panel?

The Consumer Advisory Panel is the advisory body that was established in terms of section 71 of the Electronic Communications Act. Its key functions include:

  • Provide advice on consumer-affairs matters
  • Provide general guidance on a diverse range of consumer issues that regularly arise in the communications sector
  • Promote and endeavour to protect the interest of the consumer to maximise consumer-welfare awareness

How do I lodge a complaint at ICASA?

ICASA's Consumer Affairs unit is responsible for handling consumer complaints in the electronic communications, broadcasting and postal sectors. In order to lodge a complaint with ICASA, you first need to contact your service provider and provide details of your complaint or problem. If necessary, you have the right to escalate the problem to the manager. Always keep records and documentation when you make a complaint and make sure that you've exhausted all internal channels for complaints before calling ICASA's complaints department at 011 566 3000. Click here for more information about the complaints procedure.