T-Mobile says $10 fee for 'free' tablet data was a mistake

A check of the Web site had found a requirement to sign up for a monthly plan. <b>Updated:</b> T-Mobile has apologized and called it "an executional mistake."

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Apparently, there were strings attached to T-Mobile's "free" tablet data plan -- about $10 worth of string.

T-Mobile last week touted an offer to give all tablet users on its network 200 megabytes of data for free. You either had to buy a tablet through T-Mobile or bring a compatible one in. At the time of the announcement, which came a day after the iPad Air was unveiled, executives bragged that there "were no strings attached" to this offer.

But a check of T-Mobile's Web site showed that wasn't the case. If you purchased a tablet through T-Mobile, you were required to sign up for an "On Demand" plan that keeps the SIM card active. The plan costs $10 a month.

Updated at 5:01 p.m. PT: T-Mobile confirmed the issue and called it "simply an executional mistake."

"We sincerely apologize for any confusion and inconvenience, and we are working to address the issue, including crediting all customers who were charged," the company said in a statement e-mailed to CNET.

The company maintained that any tablet user on its network would get the free data.

Two T-Mobile sales representatives had previously confirmed to CNET that users needed to have an active SIM and the "On Demand" plan in order to get the free 200 megabytes of data. In addition, there is a $10 fee for a SIM starter kit.

The $10-a-month plan flew in the face of T-Mobile's promise of free data. For a carrier that has prided itself on talking about the truths of the wireless industry, it was curious the company would omit such a key aspect of its tablet plan.

With the iPad Air launching on Friday, it was the first time T-Mobile customers could buy the tablet and sign up for the plan.

Some customers, including existing T-Mobile customers and those who purchased an iPad Air directly from Apple, said they were able to access to the free data plan without any problems. The issue appeared to be squarely with T-Mobile's sales staff and Web site.

The free data plan was designed to kick off T-Mobile's big push into tablets, an area where it has lagged behind giants AT&T and Verizon Wireless. As with phones, T-Mobile would allow customers to pay off the tablet in monthly installments. The offer made a splash with consumers, who were likely taking a second look at T-Mobile and a cellular-connected tablet.

But consumers will want to take an even closer look and consider whether they want to be stuck paying $10 a month to keep it active.