Is MTN Stealing Airtime from its Subscribers?

By Staff Writer    14-Aug-2016 17:16 UTC+02:00
A number of MTN subscribers are threatening to leave the network due to mysteriously disappearing airtime and data. Image: MTN.

A number of MTN subscribers are threatening to leave the network due to mysteriously disappearing airtime and data.
Image: MTN.

Recently, MTN’s Facebook page has been flooded with posts from unhappy subscribers, most of whom complain about mysteriously disappearing airtime and data.

In most cases, when MTN responds, it advises its subscribers to dial *141*5# to deactivate content subscriptions which may be deducting their airtime. Those who have confirmed that they have no active content subscriptions are usually advised to call 173 and select option 0 to speak to an MTN agent. However, according to customers who recently called 173, option 0 does not work. This has left many customers feeling ripped off, with some threating to leave the network.

Earlier this year, a report by the South African Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman revealed that MTN was the most complained about company in South Africa between 2015 and 2016. Last week it was reported that in the first half of 2016, the number of MTN SA subscribers declined by 2.6% to 29.8 million, meaning that the network lost close to 800 000 subscribers in the country.

However, despite losing subscribers, MTN SA’s revenue increased by 5.1% to R19.84 billion. This increase was attributed to higher device sales and data revenue. According to a financial report released last week, MTN’s data revenue increased by 19,2%, contributing 34,1% to total revenue. The number of smartphones on the network increased by 18,4% to 9,3 million, while megabytes per user increased by 53,8%.

Following the publication of these financial results, some disgruntled subscribers saw the increase in data revenue as proof that MTN is overcharging them. Usually, when customers complain of being overcharged, MTN puts the blame on content subscriptions and smartphone settings, claiming that apps running in the background and automatic updates can deplete data and airtime without the user noticing. While this may be true in some cases, we have ample evidence that MTN’s billing system can sometimes be the culprit.

Over the past few days we observed that MTN does not bill its customers accurately in real time and that sometimes the amount of data used can be greater than the available data bundle, leaving a customer with a data debt which gets deducted from airtime or a newly loaded data bundle. If for example, a client has R100 airtime and 50MB of data, MTN can allow them to use 80MB without charging them or showing them immediately how much data they have used. If they check their balance moments before being billed, they may think that their airtime is still safe and continue using the internet, unaware that there is already 30MB that they have to pay for in out-of-bundle rates (R1 to R2 per MB).

One may argue that using a billing system like this is unethical and aimed at maximizing profit. Allowing unsuspecting customers to accummulate data debt and then deducting their airtime without their explicit permission is tantamount to theft or fraud, regardless of what the terms and conditions may say. Since internet users buy data bundles to protect their airtime from the ridiculously high out-of-bundle rates, when their data bundles have been depleted, they should be disconnected from the internet and given an option to buy another data bundle or continue using the internet at out-of-bundle rates. Unlike Telkom Mobile (8.ta), MTN does not provide this option. It just deducts airtime without redirecting its customers to a page where they can choose to either approve out-of-bundle rates, buy another data bundle or stay offline. If MTN does not review and change its billing system, more subscribers may leave the network and switch to networks that allow them to browse the internet peacefully, knowing their airtime is safe.


Showing 21 Comments
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  1. Dan says:

    I’m one of those who are leaving MTN. I can’t take this anymore.

  2. Motau says:

    I dialled 173 to query about my data bundles and I was advised that apps running in the background and automatic updates can deplete data and I also dialled 141*5# to deactivate content subscriptions which may be deducting the airtime however it confirmed that I have no active content subscriptions. But still when I load data bundle it last only for that day.

  3. Bawinnie says:

    This is ##Bullshit Mtn pls stop ✋ this ? ?

  4. We should rally together and take legal action says:

    Take the fight to MTN’s doorstep

  5. Matthew says:

    We need to rally together.I think a protest is in order.If MTN won’t listen to a few. Maybe a few thousand might make the difference.

  6. Anathi says:

    Mtn is the worst network there is I am going to be changing networks after 15years using them, ripping us of and suddenly reserving your airtime without permission. One minute you buy airtime next thing its gone. Most of my friends and family have ported. The service is also atrocious

  7. Xolisa says:

    MTN is the worst network ever. It is totally outrageous!

  8. Darina says:

    I have a contract through foschini with MTN my data is depleting very fast i have contacted Foschinie and they advised they have to get feedback from MTN. The feedback I got was that I am a lot on the internet, but my qquery was if my data is completed and I load a monthly data bundle it expires before a month is over. I am tired of MTN and thinking over cancelling all my contracts and taking it to Cell C

  9. Faheem says:

    I’m losing airtime but my data stays ,please advise I have no content services activated

  10. Mario says:

    I apparently lost 3GB in so many weeks, I have about 30 low quality pictures downloaded for that data and money lost!
    Someone is busy paying their Nigerian poor service fine with our airtime and data. Buggeroff mtn!

  11. Sbongile says:

    mtn is by far the worst I called their customer care helpline but I didn’t get help I was just told that their system hasn’t updated therefore they don’t have a clue what’s consuming my data I should call again at 3,they didn’t even try to help

  12. Heib says:

    OK so I buy 2 gigs costs me R269. I get 1gig midnight express. Gone on to Facebook switched off my data afterwards. The next morning my data and whatever airtime I had is at 0? What the f#ck MTN YOUR DATA RATES ARE RAPING THE WALLETS OF YOUR PEEPS THEN YOU F#ck them again by taking the remaining airtime. That’s low. Please know you will me loosing more peeps. After this week I’m out. This is the kakkest service from a service provider that rapes their subscribers wallets.

  13. Elliot mokoena says:

    So how do I stop mtn stealing data

  14. Elliot mokoena says:

    Mtn stealing data

  15. Sandile says:

    when i load MTN airtime, it dissapears and i get the mtn free airtime which i can only call MTN numbers with 5mb data which also dissapears, this really stealing at its best.

  16. Trevor says:

    MTN must Go to Hell. I’m out of this S***t.

  17. Conner says:

    Decided to test this for good today. Disabled background data on my phone, bought 1gig of data, browsed facebook for 20 minutes, check my data usage report (27 MB), checked my MTN balances (Data 300 MB left!) and R6 airtime gone!? How does airtime also dissapear when you have a data bundle? And 700mb in 20 minutes of browsing with no background data usage? Blatant thievery.

  18. Conner says:

    Anybody interested in taking this further, respond to my message. I am creating a petition to be signed and sent to the consumer protection commission. Since the company protects it’s shareholders from the consequences of stealing, our only option is to take the company down.

    • Lorrence says:

      I want to help, tell me how

      • Leah says:

        I paid my account every month but end of March, I didn’t receive a sms as usual confirming my payment and is still not able to make a phone call because as the message says: “you don’t have sufficient airtime to make this call”. I never made one call this month and mtn cannot answer me. what is going on?!

  19. saj says:

    Mtn is a joke.

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