EWN published a surprising story titled “The terms of MTN’s uncapped data explained”, in which MTN’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, Eddie Moyce, explains MTN’s activation requirement for its time based uncapped data bundle. Here is the radio segment:
The surprise is that this uncapped data offer doesn’t work the way you may expect. Consumers should pay careful attention to the fine print avoid being caught out, potentially at a substantial cost. Essentially, even though you have paid for the bundle, you still need to activate it by dialling a short-code which you receive by a SMS. If you don’t activate the bundle, you will use data at normal data rates and could wind up with a larger bill than you expected.
Two aspects of this story are problematic:
1. Why offer this sort of “uncapped” bundle that the customer still needs to activate in order to use it, even after paying for it?
This is really misleading. Most data bundles activate automatically when you have paid for them and the changes propagate across the network, don’t they?
The mechanism suggests that MTN intentionally created this activation mechanism knowing that many customers won’t actually realise they need to do it and will wind up paying far more. I checked the terms and conditions that apply to this package (I think – the MTN site is not exactly designed to find information easily) and it says the following:
- Activation of the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles
5.1 Customers may purchase an MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle by dialing *141*2#.
5.2 Customers must activate the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle after purchase, by dialing *141*5#. The MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle does not automatically activate .
5.3 Customers may only activate the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle if they have sufficient airtime in their airtime account or using their usage limit (for My MTNChoice customers). This excludes MTN Loyalty 1–4–1 Loyalty Points and any promotional airtime.
These data bundles are typically “valid for a period of 24 (twenty four) hours”, although only “after [they are] activated”. I also wonder how many people are aware of when the data bundle kicks in? How many people assume (and reasonably so) that the package kicks in automatically and they start using the data right away?
The seemingly reasonable SMS from MTN with activation instructions is challenging. Many people ignore SMS messages they receive for various reasons and may not notice the significance of an activation message until long after their bill has hit triple digits.
This activation mechanism looks a lot like the dodgy tactics mobile content providers used to use before they were banned: automatically subscribing consumers to expensive content (think R5 or R7 per day until cancelled) subscription services without clear double opt-in mechanisms and pricing information. You wouldn’t expect major network operators to use misleading tactics such as these.
2. Why impose a “fair use value” cap of 150MB on an “uncapped” data bundle? That is tiny.
Then, to add to this, the notion that a bundle with a “fair use value” cap of 150MB is somehow an “uncapped” data bundle is ridiculous. That is a tiny amount of data when you consider that, as Eddie Moyce put it, people tend to buy these packages for specific reasons. One of those reasons would be that the customer needs to use a lot more data than his or her usual bundle allows (at least, cost effectively) in a short time period.
Here is an extract from the terms and conditions dealing with the “Fair Use Policy”:
9.1.4 Customers with an active MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle shall be able to generate uncapped data usage, however, a fair use value/threshold as detailed in the table in clause 4 above will apply for the duration of the Validity Period.
9.1.5 Should the Customer exhaust the fair use value, as detailed in the table in clause 4 above, before the end of the Validity Period, the Customer’s data speeds will be reduced to 128kbps for the remainder of the Validity Period and the Fair Use Policy shall detailed in this clause 9 shall apply.
9.1.6 MTN further reserves the right to implement other measures and controls to ensure that the integrity of its systems is maintained, including but not limited to measures such as DPI (Deep Packet Inspection). DPI:
22.214.171.124 allows MTN to monitor aspects including, but not limited to, non-compliance with its Fair Use Policy and restricted protocols, prevent attacks from computer viruses/worms and identify SPAM. Such usage may be blocked or re-routed;
126.96.36.199 also allows MTN to throttle certain usage, such as peer to peer traffic;
188.8.131.52 shall also allow MTN to prioritize/filter certain activities, such as VoIP traffic, over other activities which are burdensome on the MTN network (such as video streaming);
184.108.40.206 in essence, this allows MTN to alleviate network congestion and improve service to all MTN customers.
9.1.7 This Fair Use Policy may be amended by MTN, whether by clarifying, modifying, adding to or deleting certain terms and conditions. This is subject to the Modification of Terms and Conditions, including notice being provided to you, as detailed in clause 16 below.
Not only does the available data speed slow to 128kbps when you hit that measly 150MB but MTN also imposes a series of restrictions on how you can use the data and when. The end result is that your “uncapped” data bundle is more like a “you can’t do much with this ISDN-like connection but thanks for paying anyway” bundle.
But wait, there’s more:
- MTN hides all these restrictions and qualifications in terms and conditions which few consumers will ever read, and
- these restrictions are couched in fairly dense language and presented in pale text on a white background that no-one over 45 can read without squinting says a lot too.
One more thing – no business use for you
Oh, by the way, this package isn’t available for “commercial use” so don’t think you are allowed to use this package to give your small business a little boost either:
9.2 The MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles are intended for consumer use only. This means that the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles may not be used for commercial use (which includes, but is not limited to the intention of promoting, enabling, subscribing to, selling (directly or indirectly) the goods, services or image of any person pursuing a commercial, industrial, craft, religious, charitable or political activity or exercising a regulated profession).
9.3 The MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles exclude use of the following services:
9.3.1 Least Call Routing (LCR);
9.3.2 Routing devices; and/or
9.3.3 Commercial use.
9.4 Use of the above services shall be deemed abuse and/or fraudulent use of the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles and shall entitle MTN to immediately suspend and/or deactivate the Customer’s access to the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles.
So if you are a small business owner and you happened to buy this bundle and use it as part of your business (you could have sent a data message to a client telling them about your services, for example), you would be committing a fraud in addition to breaching the terms and conditions of the bundle. Talk about hostile to small business!
When I think about what is available outside South Africa, MTN’s approach to mobile services and pricing just doesn’t make sense to me. My current mobile service includes 5 000 minutes of calls, 5 000 SMS messages, 10GB of data a month and 500 minutes of calls to my family in SA (landlines in SA) for the equivalent of about R200 per month. It wasn’t always like this but regulatory changes and increased competition improved the situation for Israelis.
Instead of obfuscating an overly complex service, why not offer a simpler option that just let’s people pay their R40 for either a fixed amount of data or a realistic “fair use value” cap? Drop this silly activation mechanism and the ridiculous fine print. In other words, give people what they think they are getting or, if that is more than you want to offer, offer them something you are comfortable with and that makes sense to consumers.
Image credit: Pixabay