Category: Technology

Hellkom like no SOE ever scorned (Part 2)

My saga of moving my Telkom landline continued from part 1.

DAY 28 A bearded Telkom technician arrives with his assistant. They are unable to install the line because my apartment requires a cable to be installed via a conduit which can only happen with the landlords permission. I am inundated by SMS from Telkom requesting me to rate their service online. I get a call from my landlord’s company offering me a 10mps wireless connection. No Telkom. Apparently this would entail gaining the password to his router. I attempt to decline the offer.

DAY 35 Still no home Internet. I am forced to use Internet cafes to file my SARS tax return. Problem is, I can’t find a cafe that is compliant with SARS efiling demand that I use adobe flash player 11. Apparently everyone in the real world is operating with flash 23. I head over to SARS office in town. There is no public access terminal available to do the task. Speak to an inane SARS employee who keeps telling me to file the return online. I seem to be in a boot loop, explaining that even my bank has a self-service terminal and doesn’t rely upon its clients to have private Net access. Fail.

DAY 36. I get a phone call from my landlord inquiring about my letter explaining why I believe a ‘fibre and cable’ option, and separate ‘voice and data’ services would be far better for my needs than low power radio access to his router. He has sent an Internet access form for his &*(^ provider, detailing its wonderful contention ratios, its commercial quality bandwith, (but no voiceline) and patiently tries to solve my voice and data issues by explaining that Skype offer a Skype-out service where one can call local numbers, I don’t even try to explain why paying for local calls in Dollars or Euros  to  isn’t going to be worth my while (Surely a gap in the market?), and in my case a choice between having connectivity or health insurance. He appears to relent when I explain that in order to access his marvellous router for which I would be handing over precious cash, some R150 more than my current service via MWEB, and without a guarantee on latency, I would need to invest in a WIFI receiver. I feel like a hillbilly holding out for Grandma, because she has a landline.

IMG_20170928_153804

Telkom cable hanging in the road

DAY 38 I am in a strange new world, in which the Tantalising Internet is both absent and present. (see The Curse of King Tantalus) For the vast majority, the Internet is whatever can be gleaned via occasional free wifi hot spots in cafes, (just buy a coffee). Or the traditional Internet Cafe (a dying breed) where you can hire a computer for a few rands per half-hour. Metro-rail still do not have wifi on their trains. It is like being the last person on earth after the flood. The problem of too many Android apps, competing for precious storage space, the insanity of every company pushing out its own app, at the same time as palming off services into the digital realm, the real beneficiaries are the mobile technology providers. For a brief time I marvel at how everyone must be doing, walking around with terabytes of ram on their phones and tablets, but sadly, like most people, I only have 4 gb on my phone, Android Lollypop takes up most of the space of the Vodacom unit and this version prevalent in the third world, doesn’t like SD cards, and won’t let me expand. I am forced to call a hotline to access my health insurance which relies on its app to service customers, miraculously, they provide the line as a free service and I don’t need to load airtime.

DAY 42 I receive an SMS alerting me to a bill in the amount of R456.11, not only is the inhuman Telkom system billing me for a non-existent service, but they also have the wrong call plan. Prior monthly average has been R310, and the last bill was a credit for R10.93. I call a helpline, log a dispute and am told “the extra fees are for ADSL”, it appears Telkom have taken over the ADSL portion of my service without my consent. Seems as if the beast is unable to accommodate real people with real-life problems, and is instead introducing new problems of its own. I also get the sneaking suspicion that Telkom bills are all just a thumbsuck with no real bearing on usage. Am forced to leech internet (keep those passwords!). Pickup a telephone directory from the Post Office (remember those?), just so I can call my data service provider MWEB, alas, they are not listed in the phone book. Then remember that I have an Mweb helpline listed as a memo in a notepad on my desktop. Call them on a “sharecall” to explain the situation. I must first log a fault, then seek a refund for the two months I am without service etc etc. I swear many service providers make money out of ‘sharecall’ services.

At first I speak to the accounts dept, then the technical dept, and finally the “moving dept”.

Apparently I should have called MWEB to begin with. Why didn’t Telkom bother to tell me what was required? The confusion is all the result of an ANC SOE policy whereby Telkom is the monopoly cable operator, (these days in name only) but where third parties offer data services, a complete fibre-to-the-home solution lurks on the horizon, great if you end up getting bundled voice and data. Why has the beast unilaterally taken over my ADSL “line” (read “account”)? To make matters worse, there has been no communication from MWEB alerting me to any of this, (they are also billing) nor from Telkom for that matter. The latest glitch of epic proportions has all occurred because of the mysterious power wielded by faceless operators sitting behind anonymous switchboards and cold cathode computer screens. In all likelihood there is no connection between my past service and the new, as yet unconnected one. R50 later and I am still not at the bottom of it all.

The woman behind the helpful MWEB “move desk” is cut off, another victim of Vodacom extortion. (Mobile rates priced as if Euros, Dollars and Sterling were all benchmarked by an accountant whose life depends upon getting lattes on executive flights to Mauritius). Again, those sharecalls seem like wishful thinking when it comes to using mobile phones, an excuse to ramp up consumer spend. I miss the Pacific Bell sales pitch from my days in California, Friends and Family Are Free. Before Telkom had even considered broadband, there was a big bang in the USA. It revolved around breaking up Ma Bell, the one-size fits-all national telco into baby bells, all competing with each other. The result was the Dot-Com explosion. In South Africa, we had quite the opposite, a National Telco Monopoly that went from Ma Telkom to GrandMa Telkom. A dinosaur currently in its death throws. RIP Public Telephones. Yes Telkom exists as a mobile phone company, but its life as a cable company is numbered, like the sales pitch at RSA web suggest, fibre is coming at lightening speed, and its not Telkom who are making the offering to connect, despite similar offerings from mobile operators. Despite the seeming progress, there are still plans afoot to calf a “National Internet Service provider” out of two separate units, broadband infraco and sentech ), a case of fiddling while Rome burns and quite the opposite of what happened in the US.

Thus in Pretoria the bureaucrats in the Zuma administration still dream of building a Kremlin large enough to get lost in, and thereby eliminate the need to work, while another dept, plots its journey to the Sun, no worries, we will travel at night! I contemplate how a system designed upon a talking drum backbone and witchcraft would work? Am ready to start sending Morse Code, or Ham Radio. Do I begin constructing my very own “Net”, this time, starting with node to CTWUG? All cost money, we so dependent upon the Net that we have become strangled by it.

DAY 49 I receive the Telkom bill printed on chlorinated white bond. It affirms that Telkom have placed me on the wrong call plan and are double-billing for ADSL services already “supplied” by MWEB. I call MWEB, the technical dept agree with me, but a lady at the accounts dept wants to argue. I request to speak to a manager, instead she puts me on hold for so long, I eventually put down the phone and decide to write the manager a letter. Meanwhile USB stick is overwritten by a virus at a City Internet Cafe. Appears some Trojan posing as a Windows “driver” updater is merrily making copies of itself. After deleting all the .ink and cmd.exe files that propagated (and then reformatting), I inform the owner, who gratiously declines to accept payment. I relocate to the City Library, where there is at least a room filled with computers, and virus-free Linux. Better work conditions as a Micro-serf, means I get to attend an ISOC party.

DAY 52 Having penned three letters in the matter, and as many complaints, I finally receive a missed call from my landlord, I pay for the call to his golden mobile phone, to finally receive lordly permission for the wiring of the conduit to go ahead. Telkom technicians will be under supervision. I thank him profusely and also thank my lucky stars that at least I’m not a Telkom employee, — can’t live with them, can’t do without them. A light is at the end of the tunnel. People are singing the praises of the Digital Jehovah, the Internet Christ will Return.

DAY 58 An electrician from a frontline state arrives. Fairly decent fellow. According to him, it will take two days to pull the wire into the building. He appears to think the cable is simply two wires. I attempt to explain that the cable needs to be Telkom compliant and that my ethernet cable has six cores. I receive an email from MWEB technical dept complaining about my not informing their MOVE dept. (Oh, the fiction) I respond that Telkom are the ones providing the infrastructure and that I have simply relocated my MWEB router.

DAY 65 5 October I receive nasty email from MWEB claiming they are ‘merely a subscription company’ and thus not liable for any loss of service due to Telkom and them managing a non-existent line. Letter goes on to explain that they can’t refund me any money, even the “subscription” for the entire month of October (Read: We don’t care a damn about our customers as long as we getting their money!)

9 October SMS Dear Mr Lewis, a dispute has been created on your account ref: 28437870 we apologise for the inconvenience and will endeavour to resolve your dispute as soon as possible, Telkom.

SMS Telkom Technican: U can take it up with them cause the job from a technical point is done. Let them know that the line is on the premises but not in ur flat due to renovation. (So much for the guaranteed installation of a fixed point inside my home)

12 October SMS Good Morning Mr D Lewis, dear value customer, you have your Internet/DATA with another service provider however your ADSL Speed Facility is with Telkom SA. Please contact your service provider to contact Telkom SA so that they can port ADSL over to them. So in mere fact you pay DATA with them and ADSL with Telkom SA. Current account of R456.11 outstanding.

DAY 79 19 October still no connectivity. However a paralegal is attending to mediation with my landlord, and an attorney via legal insurance is apparently dealing with Telkom. There is no sign of the electrician from a frontline state. I meet one of my neighbours who is paying some R150 extra to Skype, just so that he can have an 021 number. I ask him if he gets free unlimited nation wide calls to RSA telephones, he appears to grimace, but I get invited for a braai.

DAY 81  I receive a bill from Telkom, this time I owed them R843.85 for a non-existent line where the telephone number has not yet been issued.

CONTINUED PART THREE

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Google experiments with free Internet access

Google has launched a trial program that will tap into unused frequencies in South Africa’s broadcast TV spectrum

The Web giant announced today it will use the unused spectrum, so-called “white spaces” to provide Internet access to 10 schools in the Cape Town area. The goal of the trial is to show that free wireless broadband can be provided over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum.

“White space has the advantage that low frequency signals can travel longer distances,” Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, the public policy manager for Google South Africa, explained in acompany blog post. “The technology is well suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.”

MORE: Cnet

RIP Steve Jobs

SOUTH AFRICA’S hard-won democratic freedom would not have been possible without Apple computers — the humble Macintosh gave activists an important edge over the IBM mind-set of the apartheid government and it was the Apple revolution which ushered in an unbelievable period of innovation and transformation. Sadly, the egalitarian goals of Cupertino were never fully realised in the developing world over the ensuing decades, as the local Apple Core monopoly insisted on catering exclusively to the high-end South African consumer The result is a lost generation who are only now getting to grips with what Apple has achieved. Thus Steve liberated as much as he infuriated. While I am no longer a naive Apple fanboy, I secretly yearn for the simplicity of Job’s vision, especially when my open-source hardware stack fails into the chasm of complexity. RIP STEVE JOBS

Here is a link to Steve Jobs at the funeral of OS9

As rejoinder, local media appear ambivalent to the part played by Apple in South Africa’s transformation. This is not surprising, given the belief in a “miracle” and the role of the “party”. Instead of garnering local opinion, media houses simply reprinted news stories from the Independent and NY Times. It would seem our media is thus colonised to the core.

Controversy over Vuvuzela origin

THE  inevitable row over the extremely noisy Vuvuzela  has become a favourite topic of conversation at the FIFA World Cup. But the plastic instrument is drowning out another conversation — who exactly invented the Vuvuzela, and why should plastic versions of traditional musical instruments be protected under South Africa’s Intellectual Property law?

There are conflicting reports in the media about the origin of the Vuvuzela. While most local newspapers attribute the invention to local South African businessman  Neil van Schalkwyk, 36, according to the UK Guardian, a man by the name of Freddie Maake, 53 from Johannesburg claims to have invented the device.

The football fan said he created the vuvuzela prototype in the mid-70s and developed versions in aluminium and plastic, but in 2001 a company trademarked it and mass produced it. Maake said he asked for royalties but the talks broke down.

Neil van Schalkwyk of Masincedane Sport, a sporting goods and apparel company, says he is the inventor and has papers to prove it.  According to the Guardian, van Schalkwyk   a football fan, used to play semi-professionally. “I saw a tin version of the product at the stadiums,” he recalls. “With my background in plastics, I spoke to my then manager about us developing a plastic version in about 1999. The first samples were made in 2001 and we started getting the product out into the market then.”

Maake on the other hand, says he came up with the design and name: “I’m the father of vuvuzela,” he said. “The name comes from me. van Schalkwyk called his prototype something completely different.”  Production of the patented plastic Vuvuzela was announced shortly after South Africa won the rights to stage the world cup event.  The plastic Vuvuzela has a remarkable resemblance to the Swiss Horn, and other traditional European and African instruments which have been with us for thousands of years. While Maake is not making a cent, van Schalkwyk reckons the industry is worth R50 million a year.  It is unlikely the dispute will ever reach court, since litigation in terms of South African Intellectual Property Law is incredibly expense. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see if van Schalkwyk’s claim holds up. It would not be the first time that patents have been overturned after unscrupulous investors have exploited traditional knowledge.

End Telkom carrier preselect on Cable

ZA-FREE started out as a simple request to end the R152 surcharge on Internet access. In effect we are asking for the right to use any of the competing DSL and VOICE services available in the country and to stop Telkom’s practice of insisting that users pay rental on Voice as well as Data on the same line, in effect a policy of double-dipping.

I still believe this demand is a good one and the argument for doing so is valid. However, shortly after instituting the campaign, I realised there was another solution which would probably achieve a better outcome, since it dealt with the existence of the current regime and merely requires that Telkom institute the same kind of practices already at play in the wireless sector.

Everybody knows that when you buy a cellphone, some phones are network locked. This is called carrier preselect. Your phone in all likelihood is already locked to a particular carrier who bills you for services.

Likewise, when you order a landline (from Telkom) it comes with services that are already preselected. It is impossible, as far as I am aware, under the current system to dump voice services and to have a data-only line in the household market. If one is a business, such a possibility exists at a premium.

If Telkom carrier preselect was ended, and your household landline were no longer network locked for voice services, we would be able to prevent Telkom from double-dipping and extorting various surchages.

For example, the line rental would probably be a basic R152 discounted to R100 and that would be that. Cable would be just like any rented device, and you could then choose which services you needed based upon a fair market which was open to competition.

If you needed voice services from another company, you would purchase these services on top of the basic infrastructure supplied by the cable company. Yes, this is what has been left out of the equation all along, the damn cable. Its a word that became associated with network television companies in the USA, and with the digital migration that is occurring everywhere, it is a good word to describe Telkom, South Africa’s Cable company.

In the old days, a phone line would come with a free telephone. Then Telkom decided to charge rental for the phone before shopping this out and turning the devices into another market. Telkom thus no longer provides you with a telephone as such. In fact what is it that the company actually does? How many subsidiaries are profiting from the simple provision of cable services to households, without actually providing any value to the consumer?

If ZA-FREE demands were met and implemented Telkom would probably become three separate companies/divisions.

The first division would merely supply the cable and the basic switching infrastructure needed to access Voice and Data services.

The second would supply data services.

The third would supply voice services.

A competitive environment created by such a restructuring would result in greater bandwidth and better services for consumers. We would not have to choose between cable and wireless, because the system would be integrated and allow consumers to make educated decisions based upon economic need.

A consumer might decide that the only cable services required in a household are data, and use wireless for voice services. Likewise, another consumer might find voice on cable to be cheaper, and data on wireless to be a better option.

In fact there is an argument to be made that Telkom should only be a cable company and nothing more. It should be restricted from supplying voice and data services altogether because these services would be better off if they were supplied by an open market instead of a government monopoly or parastatel.

End of the day, it is the consumer which benefits, not simply shareholders and fatcat CEOs. The Internet surcharge which has characterised the South African telecoms landscape would therefore come to an end and be replaced by a legitimate charge for cable.

Telkom would be furthermore forced to acknowledge that charging line rental for voice services and line rental for data services via carrier preselect was an unfair and invalid practice that resulted in double-dipping and even tripling of costs for the consumer down the line.

I therefore urge you all to demand an end to Telkom Carrier PreSelect! Down with the surcharge on Net Access!

Feel free to circulate and forward this message. Please use the group as a forum for discussion and debate. VIVA ZA-FREE VIVA.

7 free or libre tools to survive with little or no Internet

FOR those of us living on Internet rations in the developing world, with limited or no bandwidth, web browsing is a luxury. Time then to end the digital divide by sharing web pages offline with your friends using any one of seven or more, free or libre tools that will make life a lot easier without a dedicated connection. If you want an alternative to live Internet, have sporadic or intermittent service, or are confined to an Internet Cafe, then get cracking, by giving the online world to those who don’t have it, share your bandwidth, download entire web sites and share content with your community.

AmiPic Lite – http://www.altomsoft.com/ This is a Usenet reader, Web search, download tool and image viewer.

System Requirements: Windows 98/Me with IE 5.0 or higher; Windows 2000, XP and Vista

AmiPic Lite is Free.

Download

BackStreet Browser – http://www.spadixbd.com/backstreet/ This is a multi-threading Web site download and viewing program. By making multiple simultaneous server requests, this program will download an entire Web site or section of a site. It then saves all the files on your hard drive either in their native format or as a compressed ZIP file so you can view the data while offline.

System Requirements: Windows 95/98/2000/NT/ME/XP, 64 MB RAM, 2 MB Hard Disk Spac

Free.

Download
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