Attorney Marcello Stevens instituted criminal and civil litigation against cellphone company Vodacom for loss of income. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town - A Cape Town attorney is taking on cellphone giant Vodacom and suing for R700 000, claiming his business was “crippled” for six months because the company suspended his services.

Marcello Stevens, from the law company, Marcello Stevens - Attorney at Law, said his woes with Vodacom began in June last year when he received a bill of R4 500 on a contract that, according to him, should have been R420 per month.

Stevens said he signed up for a top-up contract, only to discover later that what he received was an “open” contract.

The bill in question was for one of four contracts Stevens had with Vodacom and the contract was being used by his 11-year-old daughter.

Stevens told Weekend Argus that he switched off the data mode on his daughter’s cellphone for an entire month but still received a data bill even when no data was used.

The Stevens family has wi-fi at home and the daughter was only connected to that service.

The other three contracts were for staff at his law firm and he also had two data contracts with Vodacom.

The nework provider suspended all four cellphone contracts and the two data contracts when Stevens refused to pay an initial bill of R20 000, which was reduced to R9 000, but still Stevens refused to pay.

Now he is suing for R700 000 for loss of income for the past six months when the company was without the cellphone contracts and the two data accounts.

“When I first contacted them, they told me the additional charges were for Wireless Application Service Providers (Wasp), which I did not sign up for.

“As a small firm, the phone is our bread and butter. This has been the most frustrating thing to deal with,” said Stevens.

He said the contract was “closed” and no additional charges should have been incurred once his daughter had used her allotted two gigs of data and R44 airtime for the month.

Stevens said Vodacom’s suspension of all his contracts resulted in the firm losing business.

“I had a client who was going to pay me R500 000 for work but because I was not able to call him back, he took his business elsewhere,” said Stevens.

Stevens at Law already instituted civil proceedings against Vodacom and served a letter of demand on Vodacom’s attorney at the company’s offices on the Foreshore.

The company also registered a charge of theft and fraud at the Lansdowne police station.

Stevens said the only correspondence he received was when Vodacom’s attorneys asked for his banking details and the company turned on the calling ability for three of the four work phones, but the data services have not been activated.

Last year, Bidvest Car Rental executive, William Douglas, took action against Vodacom for allegedly being “billed without consent for content services”.

That matter is yet to be finalised.

Read: Vodacom facing missing data lawsuit

Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy, in an e-mail, told Weekend Argus: “Vodacom can confirm that it’s received communication from Mr Stevens and that we are treating this with utmost urgency with the aim of settling the matter.

“In the interim, we have reinstated the suspended line and will be conducting further investigations though Wasp. We will take appropriate action pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Spokesperson for the Right2Know campaign, Murray Hunter, told Weekend Argus the bottom line was that every day “there’s a new story of someone being ripped off by the high costs of data and airtime”.

“Yes, costs have come down as a result of public pressure, but they haven’t come down nearly far enough. There’s no excuse for a service provider racking up fees as high as R9 000 for basic data services,” said Hunter.

Hunter said they were focusing on Icasa’s public hearings on the cost of communication, which are set to take place next week in Johannesburg.

Murray concluded that Right2Know is “really encouraged by some of the creative models for cheaper communications which ordinary South Africans have championed”. Research showed that the price of data in South Africa remained unchanged for the last two years and it is still the most expensive in Africa.

South Africa’s mobile data prices have come under attack in recent months, with targeted social media campaigns like #DataMustFall.

The price of 1GB from South Africa’s two largest mobile operators - MTN and Vodacom - has remained at around R150 since 2014.

In 2016, MTN’s price per GB increased to R160, while Telkom has been the only operator to make any downward adjustment to its prices, now pricing at R99 per GB.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabulela Qoza, told Weekend Argus “the battle to reduce the cost of communication is on our agenda because we believe that lower costs could contribute in stimulating economic growth”.

“Minister Siyabonga Cwele continues to call on mobile operators to look at ways in which they can reduce data costs These engagements have led to some relief,” said Qoza.

He said the department thought there was room for further reduction.

“In this regard, minister Cwele and minister Ebrahim Patel have asked Icasa and the Competition Commission to work together to probe the lack of effective competition in the broadband market, which results in the persistently high costs of data,” said Qoza.

Weekend Argus