Just two days after the mobile operator came under fire on social media, Vodacom has back-pedalled on its plan to charge customers to roll over expiring data.

On Monday, it emerged that Vodacom had planned to charge customers up to R49 to roll over data bundles when they expired.

This was part of the operator’s preparation for SA’s new data expiry rules, which come into effect on Friday. From that day, mobile operators must let customers roll over unused data, according to regulations set by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa). The rules are aimed at reducing the cost to communicate.

A Vodacom spokesperson told Business Day on Wednesday that the operator was no longer considering fees for data roll-overs.  This brings it in line with rival operators MTN and Telkom, which had never planned to charge customers to extend the life of unused data bundles, according to their spokespeople.

A Cell C spokesperson said on Monday that the operator did charge customers to roll over data in some instances, depending on the amount of data remaining and the extension period.

A Cell C customer with a 30-day, 1GB bundle that has 763MB remaining, for example, must pay R22.89 to roll it over for another 30 days, the person said. Vodacom said in a statement on Wednesday it was reducing its out-of-bundle data rates by between 45% and 70%, depending on the plan. 

Customers will also be able to transfer expiring data to friends and family on the Vodacom network for free if the amount is 50MB or less. The maximum transfer price would be R20 for 1GB.

Jorge Mendes, CEO of Vodacom’s consumer business unit, said the operator has reduced the effective price of data by more than 40% over the past three years.

On Monday, a fund manager said Vodacom’s plans to charge for data rollovers went against the spirit of Icasa’s new rules. The plan would have “defeated the purpose”, Mergence Investment Managers portfolio manager Peter Takaendesa said.

“The trend is to reduce pricing but this is more like increasing it in a way that probably doesn’t sit well with the consumer in this tough environment.” 

After drawing the ire of Twitter users, Vodacom pulled a page on its website on Monday that showed what it had planned to charge. The page showed that to roll over a 1GB data bundle with a validity period of more than one day, for example, Vodacom intended charging as much as R49.

Icasa’s end-user and subscriber service charter regulations were initially meant to come into effect in June 2018, but a last-minute court bid by Cell C, backed by MTN and Telkom, delayed their implementation.

The operators said then that they did not have enough time to update their systems so they could send notifications to consumers about data-bundle usage and let customers roll over unused data, among other issues.

The rules also state that licensees will no longer be allowed to charge out-of-bundle rates for data when it is depleted — unless they have the consumer’s consent.