• MTN has abandoned a plan to replace automatic out-of-bundle data charges with a "bundle" that would have worked exactly the same, just a little cheaper.
  • The scheme was due to be automatically implemented for pre-paid subscribers this week.
  • MTN said its customers had "made it clear" they did not want the 1MB bundles.
  • MTN isn't the first mobile operator to come up with a clever plan to deal with new data regulations – only to have customers shout it down.
  • For more, go to Business Insider SA.

MTN will no longer automatically subscribe millions of South African customers to a 1MB "data bundle" that would have automatically billed them 40c per megabyte every time they ran out of data.

On Friday the company announced it had abandoned the scheme – which had been due to go into effect this week – in the face of user opposition.

"Our customers have made it clear that they do not want the automatic bundle option and we have therefore taken the decision not to implement the change," MTN said in a statement.

See also: MTN created a 1MB ‘bundle’ and opted in all its customers - because new rules don’t allow ruinous out-of-bundle data charges

That means that, unless MTN users have deliberately chosen to opt into out-of-bundle data, they will continue to be cut off from the internet when their data bundles expire.

At 40c per megabyte the 1MB bundle would have been a little over 18% cheaper than MTN's current out-of-bundle rate of 49c per megabyte, but – because the bundle was due to automatically renew every time it ran out – would have been otherwise indistinguishable from using out-of-bundle data.

Instead of going ahead with that plan, MTN on Friday updated the self-service system its customers can use to opt in or opt out of out-of-bundle data, when they dial *135*6#.

The company insisted it had intended only to serve its customers needs "in a manner that best connects them to their daily lives". 

Prepaid subscribers had been due to be opted in to the 1MB bundle on 16 May, and contract users were due to follow in early June, as all customers were informed via head-scratching SMSes.

MTN believed the 1MB "bundle" – the smallest quantity of data typically sold – would have put it in compliance with new rules, the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Amendment Regulations, from regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).

Those rules, intended to protect customers from what were, historically, ruinously high out-of-bundle rates, mean users must specifically opt into having their data automatically topped up – unless they are charged in-bundle prices for out-of-bundle data.

Because the rules did not specify which bundle's price must be used in such a case, MTN said its new 1MB bundle would comply – with both the letter and the spirit of the rules, it told Business Insider South Africa.

"We remain committed to compliance and respect both the intention and spirit of the regulations and laws that govern our sector and we have also heard the concerns raised by our customers in response to this proposed offering," said Mapula Bodibe, MTN SA head of consumer business, in the statement announcing its about-turn on Friday.

"Our customers have made it clear that they do not want the automatic bundle option and we have therefore taken the decision not to implement the change." 

In February Vodacom similarly abandoned a plan related to the new rules, which also demand that data must be rolled over rather than expire.

See also: Vodacom backtracks after outrage: It will now roll over data for free

Vodacom had initially said it would charge its customers a fee for rolling over data, charging up to R49 to roll over a 1GB of data – which it sells for R149.

After customers took to Twitter to complain, Vodacom first deactivated the webpage with details of the plan, then said it would reconsider.

Two days later – and just a day before it had been due to go live – Vodacom announced it would not implement the scheme, instead rolling over data for free.

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