UAE Resident Alert: No more 'bill shock' from Du or Etisalat

Additionally, the directive requires Etisalat and du to ensure that their respective customers are protected against making overlapping subscriptions that would lead to double charging. (File)

What happens if you run out of data allowance in the middle of the month without realising it? A bill shock, for sure.

It is one of mobile data customers’ perpetual nightmares. If we purchase data bundles according to expected usage and then exceed that limit, we’d end up paying through the nose for the additional data.

For, charges for additional usage could run up to 30 times more than what we might have agreed to pay as part of the package.

So most of us err on the side of caution and go for a data bundle that gives us higher-than-expected-usage so we don’t get that dreaded bill shock at the end of the month.

Recognising this, the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has issued a directive ordering telecom operators Etisalat and du 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 serves as a safety net measure to protect mobile data subscribers from what the TRA calls ‘bill shock.’

“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,” says Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, Director General, TRA.

Be fair to customers, TRA tells Etisalat, Du

The TRA has 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.  

“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.   

According to the TRA’s directive, operators must limit the supply of mobile data to the size of the bundle. Once the bundle is exhausted, they cannot supply any further mobile data unless we, the consumers, gives express consent.

Which means no more bill shock!

TRA explained in a statement that the directive (1) of 2016 applies to all mobile data bundles, whether included as part of the main subscription or purchased as an optional add-on.  

High tariff

Mobile internet data charges in the UAE are among the highest in the Gulf, with a 2012 study showing that mobile phone users in the UAE paid nearly Dh20 billion in bills to Etisalat and du in 2011.

Of late, both du and Etisalat offer unlimited daily data for Dh3 and Dh5 per day, respectively, but the TRA maintains that some consumers could still be subjected to disproportionately higher over-bundle rates.

The TRA said it released its directive after identifying several factors that could result in customers paying higher over-bundle rates as in most cases, they are not aware of the costs incurred from out-of-bundle rates or the additional charges made once their bundles are all used up.

Three rates for mobile data in UAE

1. No bundle rate: Usage is charged on a pay-as-you-use basis at the rate of Dh1 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 in-bundle rate, or charge for data consumption within the bundle allowance, can be as low as Dh0.03/MB

3. Over bundle rate: Prior to the TRA’s directive, in circumstance where the consumer’s data consumption exceeds the allowance for a given bundle, the consumer may consume additional data on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis at the over-bundle rate of Dh1 per MB of data consumed. So, if a consumer were to download a number of e-mails with attachments amounting to 200MB over and above the consumer’s data allowance, the charge to the consumer for the additional data would be Dh200 which might be higher than the price of the actual data bundle!

The TRA said it was concerned about those arrangements for a number of reasons: firstly, the consumer may or may not know when his/her bundle is exhausted and when the over-bundle rates were being charged. Also, the TRA considers it to be somewhat unfair to consumers for operators to price the over bundle rate at the same level as the no bundle rate.

New directive

Under the new directive, when a consumer has used all of the allowance in a bundle, the consumer will not be able to use any more data. Both Etisalat and du can only supply additional data to consumers during this out-of-bundle period if they: i) subscribe to another mobile data bundle; ii) opt-in to be charged at an over-bundle rate; or iii) specifically instruct their service provider to remove the hard cap. As such, the operators must at all times, record the consent and instructions of their subscribers.

Additionally, the directive requires Etisalat and du to ensure that their respective customers are protected against making overlapping subscriptions that would lead to double charging. According to the TRA, 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 may be provided with an option to opt-out of the hard cap in favour of their existing cap mechanism.