In July 2017, the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) released an updated Code of Conduct containing new clauses around premium rated services offered by SMS messaging providers. These clauses have been added to align WASPA’s Code of Conduct more with the recent amendments to the ICASA’s Regulations on a Code of Conduct for Premium Rated Services, which forms part of the regulations governing the mobile messaging industry in South Africa.
“The main purpose of these regulatory changes is to ensure transparency and compliance within the SMS industry for premium rated services,” says Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com, a global SMS provider that has been in operation since 2000.
A premium rated service is any service provided by means of premium rated numbers where the charge of the service is higher than the standard rate or cost of an SMS. South African consumers are most familiar with premium rate services as those provided by means of a 5 digit shortcode for once-off or subscription mobile services.
“Shortcodes are typically used by brands as a competition entry mechanism. Companies also use them for voting lines, information gathering or to generate sales leads, while non-profit organisations typically use shortcodes as donation lines for fundraising initiatives,” says Streicher.
The amendments to the WASPA Code of Conduct surrounding premium rated services relate to how these services are advertised and other provisions that protect the consumer. Some of these changes include that telephonic customer support must be available to the customer for any queries or complaints. Accurate and complete records of all complaints must be kept by SMS service providers, and these records must be kept for a minimum of 5 years. When providing pricing information for a subscription service, the words “subscription service”, the applicable cost to the customer, as well as the frequency of the billing for the service must be included, and the service can only be activated once a confirmation message has been sent to the customer detailing this applicable information. Pricing information also needs to be clear for once-off services like competition and donation lines.
In all cases, adverts for premium rated services must contain a description of the service offered and the registered name of the provider of the service (the company or the brand). Advertising for charitable and fundraising promotions must specify the closing date for that promotion, if one is applicable.
“These amendments regulate and clarify exactly what information should be included when organisations advertise the service to consumers. According to WASPA, their Code of Conduct is aligned with the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECTA), the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI). In short, providers who align their activities with the WASPA Code of Conduct are in full compliance with all applicable legislation, and now also with regulations drafted by the communications regulator,” adds Streicher.
Any consumer who feels that they have been misled by a premium rated service, can contact the SMS messaging service provider directly to resolve the matter. Alternatively, they can lodge a complaint about a premium rate service with WASPA here.