I recently moved house and needless to say, relocating my broadband connection turned into a major hassle. For starters, it took Telkom some 22 days to install the connection. Then I realised, my communication bill was seriously biting into my limited income. Surely I could cut down on some of my telephony services, for instance, the voice services bundled along with the broadband data?
Telkom, South Africa’s sole supplier of broadband cable to the domestic household are adamant that if you want broadband, you also have to pay for voice. The saga of doubling up of costs and the resulting demand for “naked adsl” is testimony to the way the company does business, treating consumers as if they are nothing more than cash cows to be milked for all they are worth.
Some years ago, I started a Facebook group called ZA-FREE. One of the key demands of ZA-FREE was (and still is) along with the Internet as a Human Right, is for greater broadband options, especially the right not to be forced to pay for bundled voice services on a simple cable connection. There is no technical or physical reason why this can’t happen, and yet Telkom employees act as if the voice bundle is an integral part of the technology which supplies consumers with a broadband cable circuit. Surely a problem related to superstition stemming from the manner in which telephones as opposed to ‘cables’ are installed into homes?
A consumer group called Free the Web soon followed ZA-FREE with similar demands, hence the term “naked adsl” and the demand for”naked internet”. To date, Telkom refuse to accede to any of our demands for greater rights, freedoms and choices when it comes to broadband.
This got me thinking. Why is Telkom still opposed to Broadband Cable Freedom, and why has consumer pressure failed to bring the Telco round to a modern, 21st century view of cable, as opposed to telephone and wireless, services?
Could it be Telkom (and the government) fear the potential that broadband cable has for liberating consumers from the narrow-band straightjacket which is capped Internet? Is it a throwback to the apartheid baaskap mentality in which certain sectors of the population are considered of no value except as labourers? In this way of thinking, the only people who deserve broadband are those who can afford to pay for voice services, in other words, the middle class.
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.