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.
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.
Imagine having to pay R152 in tax every month, to a quasi-government organisation that claimed it was providing services in return. Imagine if you were already paying for this service and merely wanted to make use of the infrastructure. Would you pay R152 a month merely for the OPPORTUNITY to access the internet? If you were of sound mind and body probably not, but in the weird deformed State we call South Africa, consumers are being taxed to death.
If ever there was a case for deregulation of the market then this is it – Telkom the parastatel with an iron grip over the fixed line rental market is ripping off consumers to the tune of R 100 million a year, simply because it is allowed to charge a premium to connect to third-party data services. Whatever the consumer is already paying for line rental doubles once one gets onto the Net. The telco demands a R152 monthly fee to complete a circuit that is already supplied on all Adsl enabled home lines. That’s right, simply for the opportunity to connect to a third party in order to access data services, the company charges an additional fee that is extorted from consumers in a weird shifting of the buck that results in you getting screwed.
In an effort to find a better deal and make use of the 100 or so service providers out there providing data, I purchased an ADSL modem/router. Turns out, in order to use this router, Telkom demand a R152pm fee. Same line, but your got to cough-up regardless. So, what should be a R70pm a Gig outlay, turns into R220pm making the R199 Do offering attractive for some. Why should I have to shell out R500 month to enjoy data services? Once you take into account the initial line rental (R160), the whole fixed line business starts to look stupid. Any wonder, Telkom is also in the wireless business and pushing a technology in competition to fixed line?
So there you have it – South Africa’s Information Superhighway sucks because the consumer gets screwed no matter what.
Okay, so eventually I get this call from somebody who claims to be the CO, this after escalating my complaint about having to pay for dialup, over and above the line rental during callmore time, through the various channels. Under the current plan I am entitled to free calls “up to an hour” so why not free calls using a modem?
Turns out, I am paying Telkom for the “opportunity” to connect to the Internet. After explaining that I already have an Internet account with a third party and can’t see why I have to pay for net usage for a line I already rent, using a modem I own, the man starts this heavy-breathing, loan-shark routine. “You still have to pay us!” he says. Telkom’s local loop can pickup whether or not you dial to a modem or ISP. “Where’s the contract for Internet services”, I respond. Wait for it – he proceeds to go into a long soliliquay about there “being no contract” as such and like the loan shark says – just pay up. No wonder consumers feel like they are getting fleeced.
As far as I am concerned, this is a simple case of corporate fraud and I have thus placed the matter before the Public Protector, who no doubt will come back with yet another loan shark agreement in which the consumer pays regardless of the services supplied.
I will keep readers updated as this saga plays itself out. More on this I promise.