Parliament has overwhelmingly adopted a motion to abolish the expiration of internet data bundles purchased from various service providers.

The motion moved by Nalikwanda UPND member of parliament Professor Geoffrey Lungwangwa to call for legislature that could compel government to prohibit internet service providers from prescribing expiry dates on internet bundles purchased by customers was seconded by Kasama Central PF member of parliament Kelvin Sampa.

In moving the motion, Wednesday afternoon, Professor Lungwangwa argued that it was unfair for service providers to continue “snatching data” from customers who were unable to utilise their bundles before the expiry date.

“Service providers have segmented their data provision along the following time frames: daily, weekly, 90 days, 180 days and 365 days. These time frames presuppose that purchased data do expire. In other words, if I buy five gigabytes of internet data for a week and I use only two gigabytes, the bundles will expire at the end of the one week time frame. The question is: who benefits from that data which I haven’t used? The answer is the provider is the beneficiary because the unused data can be sold to another client. So this is a money-making business,” Prof Lungwangwa said.

He suggested that internet data bundles should not expire and gave a number of special conditions under which such could happen.

“Data can expire where a client who was a visitor leaves the country for a long period of time and he probably never returns. Data purchased by such clients should expire after a specified period of time. Secondly, data can expire after a specified period of time when a client stops using the services of a provider from whom it was purchased. Data can also expire if the client does not use the services of the provider for a long period of time. This is in line with the allowable period of declaring, for example, a sim card. If you don’t use a sim card for 90 days, it becomes dormant and logically, even data, if after 90 days it’s not utilised, it should remain dormant or expire,” Prof Lungwangwa said.

“The government should direct service providers to abide by the following conditions: one, the time frame for data usage should be tied to the period of declaring the sim card dormant and therefore, transferable to another client namely 90 day period…This means that purchased data, no matter how little, should be operational in line with the dormancy of the sim card; two, all data providers should have provision for data transfer and data roll over so that a client does not lose purchased data after 90 days so that you can roll over your data or you transfer it to another client; three, all service providers should have in their services provision for 24 hour notification to customers before the 90-day expiry of the data so that customers are aware.”

In supporting the motion, Sampa said attaching an expiry date to data purchased was unacceptable as consumers were being robbed of their money.

Minister of Transport and Communications Mutotwe Kafwaya said the government would ensure mobile phone companies did not exploit consumers through the expiry of internet bundles.

“In 2017, in order to address the consumer concerns, government through the Zambia Information Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) conducted a study to ascertain the portion of study of people who do not exhaust their data bundle before their expiring. The study revealed that on a monthly basis, a large number of subscribers did not exhaust their data bundle before their expiry. On average, 52% of the subscribers who purchased the daily 500 mega byte did not fully exhaust this allocation before expiring. 14 % of subscribers to the monthly one GB had their bundles expire before complete usage. The study further reveals that 39 % of subscribers who purchased a 10 GB for 60 days had their bundles expire before expiration,” explained Kafwaya.

And Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya said: “…We do not want Zambians to be taken advantage of and that is why this motion…is a non-partisan issue for all of us in this House.”