Consumers making “toll-free” calls from one of the 59-million mobile phones in use in South Africa should acquaint themselves with the meaning of “oxymoron”.

That’s according to Switch Telecom’s Greg Massel, who says South African consumers can only be sure they’re not being billed for 0800 calls if they’re making the call using the same telecoms network that issued the toll-free number.

Massel urges consumers to begin pressuring the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to ensure the country’s Toll-Free Framework is finalised.

“Toll-free calls were supposed to be genuinely free of charge to the calling party as far back as 2009. The deadline set by Icasa for finalisation of the Toll Free Framework has repeatedly been extended – we’re now looking at October 2014,” Massel explains.

Switch Telecom is urging individual consumers and consumer rights organisations to take a stand against the misleading concept of “toll-free” in South Africa and to make representations to Icasa for toll-free calls that are genuinely free.

“The draft numbering plan regulations issued in 2009 contained a single, one-line clause which simply said toll-free calls should be free to any calling party. Now, four years later, the issue is still not finalised.

“Government’s stated commitment is to lower telecoms costs. We have seen this with Icasa’s plans to cut the country’s mobile termination rate to 10 cents by 2016. While this is encouraging, finalising the Toll-Free Framework would result in immediate and tangible savings for consumers,” says Massel.

Even though it is not obliged to, Switch Telecom charges nothing for calls to toll free numbers on other networks, and urges other operators to do the same.

In its submission to Icasa regarding a functional toll-free framework urged Icasa Switch Telecom noted a lack of attention to the consumer thus far.

“Some (toll-free billing) options (proposed by the incumbents) contemplate the ridiculous notion that businesses operating toll-free services should connect to all 100 potential originating operators to keep calls on-network so they are free,” the company wrote.

The submission added: “Switch Telecom urges Icasa, in the finalisation of the Toll-Free framework, to at all times place consumer interests first. Critical to the consumer’s interests are that they can quickly and easily obtain service from the provider of their choice and know that, without effort or complication to them, their provider shall ensure that potential customers – on any network – can reach them on their toll-free number.”