TRA orders Etisalat and du to stop pay-per-use data plans

The regulator wants to protect customers from excessive bills

Shoppers walk in front of Etisalat Telecommunication in Dubai Mall, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 20, 2018. Picture taken December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
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The UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority demanded operators Etisalat and du discontinue pay-per-use data plans, unless a customer explicitly requests the service, to prevent clients from receiving excessive bills.

The move aims to “protect subscribers” from “high charges”, the regulator said on Friday, because the service was previously activated automatically when a user inserted a “SIM card in the mobile device, causing increase of charges and loss of balance”.

Hamad Al Mansoori, TRA director general, said the regulator’s decision reflects its “keenness to achieve customers’ happiness by implementing the best international standards on the services provided by the licensees in the country, providing the best services and the highest quality, and giving the subscribers more freedom and flexibility in choosing the services they desire”.

Data-on-demand is offered by Etisalat and du, allowing subscribers to dial a number to access mobile data and pay by the minute. But some consumers faced hefty bills after forgetting to unsubscribe from the service, which remained active until they put a stop to it or ran out of credit. The TRA first issued an order to discontinue the service on Twitter, before following up with a statement on Friday.

On Thursday Etisalat sent a text message to its subscribers saying: “Great news! No more bill shocks on data! To prevent unexpected charges, pay-as-you-go data has been blocked from 1st July 2019. For on-demand mobile internet, please dial *800# and use Play on Demand for only 5 fils/min.”

According to Etisalat's website on Saturday, customers now wanting start or stop data services must subscribe and are charged 30 fils for the first 15 minutes and then 2 fils per minute.

Du lists the same rate on its website with both operators now capping the length of time the service remains active.

While du states that the service remains active “for a maximum duration of 4 hours in one session”, Etisalat says customers are “protected from Pay-as-You-Go charges for two hours after stopping your data session”.

In March, the TRA said mobile phone users in the UAE would no longer have to pay months' worth of fees for ending their contracts early.

An amendment stated that only a month’s fee could be charged for early termination, replacing a previous provision that allowed operators to charge a monthly fee multiplied by the number of months remaining in the contract.

Mohammed Al Ramsi, the TRA’s regulatory affairs director, said at the time that the new amendment came in response to customer complaints, as the previous provision “forced the customer to commit to using the service until the end of the contract, despite their unwillingness to do so sometimes”.

“Now the user can terminate the service contract and choose another service for a simple charge equal [to] one month fee, which is considered operational fees,” he said.

The TRA said on Friday these amendments have already been introduced to new contracts for mobile phone services and will be applied to other contracts in time.

Previously the penalties for breaking a contract could add up quickly. For Etisalat plans, it either cost Dh50 or Dh100 times the number of months remaining in the contract, depending on the package.

For du plans, it was anywhere between Dh100 times the remaining months for a 12-month contract to Dh1,000 times the remaining months of the second year for a 24-month contract, also depending on the monthly package cost.

Meanwhile, in January this year du waived the phone bills of a number of holidaymakers who returned to find they had charges totalling tens of thousands of dirhams after claiming to use their UAE sim card for calls or data for a matter of minutes.

The company cancelled the charges of at least two customers The National spoke to in recent days for Dh6,000 and Dh30,000, respectively, citing a glitch in both instances.

In 2016, the TRA set out regulations to ensure providers capped customers’ bills to prevent “bill shock”.