Herewith my experience attempting to relocate a Telkom line, Ed.
My first call to the Telkom operator from the line that is going to be relocated is unsuccessful, thus beginning a series of similar unfortunate phone calls. Each time I am asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, a case of pretending to be in the information age?
I explain that I am moving from Woodstock to Muizenberg. I give the exact street address and room number of the apartment, a duplex near the Beachfront. The person tells me the address is on google maps but not on the Telkom system. I need to give the ‘name’ of the apartment, she says. I tell her, I don’t know the exact name, but surely the street address and room number will suffice? She puts the phone down on me.
I arrive at my new address, and call Telkom again from a mobile phone. After about 40 minutes on hold, with an obsequious rich voice assuring me that I am being attended to, I give up, (It seems Telkom have two voices, one when soliciting services and another when demanding money — that irritating old apartheid Tannie must work when it comes to bad debts).
Next call I eventually get through after 20 minutes. Each call consumes an enormous amount from my capped mobile contract. There is no toll free relocation number to assist persons such as myself. No attempt to finesse the plight of those unfortunates wishing to relocate. I duly give the details of the apartment, including its “name”. “It’s a totally different area, says the operator, you will have to get a different number.” Fine I say, when can you relocate the service? I am told the relocation will take up to 7 working days.
Wishful thinking, after the expiry of this period, I call Telkom one again, only to be told that the relocation can take up to 21 working days not including weekends.
DAY 16, I get an SMS arranging a morning appointment, enter @yes or @no. I sms my acceptance. D-Day arrives, beginning with an early morning sms addressed to Dear Customer, ‘a Telkom technician has been dispatched to install your telephone line for your order today, your continued support is appreciated.’
By mid-morning I am beginning to not appreciate. By midday I am positively livid. Then I receive a mobile call from the “technician”, a person apparently contracted by the company to install my line. ‘I was at your address in Woodstock this morning’ he says, all Gung ho. “You weren’t there.” I explain that he has attempted to reinstall my line at my old address, and that I am in Muizenberg not Woodstock. “That’s the order I got. Its a totally different area he says.” I tell him that his company appears retarded. He puts down the phone and I don’t get an opportunity to question him as to why he didn’t call first thing in the morning. I suspect that he is simply happy to get paid a call-out fee without doing any work, a new loophole being exploited by outside contractors, that are also rife in the insurance industry.
Thus at the end of the day I receive yet another Dear Customer SMS, assuring me that a technician has been dispatched, no such luck, except for the lucky fellow who has now probably billed the company twice.
DAY 17 AM, I call Telkom, am once again asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, before being referred to another person for assistance. I barely have time to repeat all the information once again, before my mobile phone cuts out, victim of diminishing finances.
What strikes me is how the supposed digital sophistication of the company is turning out to be a highly complicated, analog affair, as if kilometres of copper cable would need to be hauled from one suburb to the next, merely to accommodate a simply change of address. The same obfuscation is apparent in the world of plumbing where a simple hot water geyser, basically a large kettle, is turned by a trick of the imagination, into an ancient steam engine necessitating the attendance of a team of engineers in the minds of the victims of the charlatans of the profession.
Walking on the street on the way to recharge my mobile, I notice a man working on a Telkom cable box. I ask him what he is doing, apparently he is an apprentice. Soon a technician arrives in a van. I relate my tale of woe. He asks if I have the order number. He makes a note and takes down my mobile number. He says in all likelihood the other technician won’t get paid. Will he help me?
There was a time when Telkom was a purely analog company, replete with switch boards and physical switching of calls. One could call an operator to place a collect call, while the post office handled telegrams, the antecedent of email and sms. Then the Internet and the Information Age arrived. Instead of rebooting, the company carried on providing copper cable, assured of its monopoly on telephony, a mantra of the volkscapitalisme under the old National Party, a socialist status quo which continued under the ANC, only to see wireless operators and the invariable march of progress and free enterprise, beat it to the punch in terms of sheer numbers.
South Africa has a history of late adoption of technology and, aside from cellular, Telkom is no exception. After killing off Internet dialup services the company begrudgingly offered broadband in 2005, some 20 years after the technology and the Internet had caught on in the West. For two decades the only form of Internet enjoyed by South Africans was thus to be had via Internet Cafes and exorbitant cellular contracts that really take the joy away from surfing. Then Telkom shifted into wireless and also listed on the JSE, an example of a ‘hybrid SOE’ with both government and private investors, punting hybrid technology while seeking to compete with the new wave of optical networks. As I write this, there are now various offerings of fibre cable by the three big mobile operators, (Cell C, MTN, Vodacom) and all are pretty expensive in comparison to copper. So far as price is concerned, Telkom’s offering is cheaper by yards. Technology such as G-Fast has extended the lifespan of copper.
The cost of delaying the inevitability of the Information Age, and the need for competition, has been a loss of economic activity and productivity that spans a generation. For South Africans champing at the bit, it is the ANC and SOE Minister Lynne Brown who needs to take responsibility. Like the Nat Minister who famously opposed the introduction of Television, Brown has consistently punted the anti-technology, anti-Internet views of the labour-left coalition governing the country, at the same time as claiming to be rolling out services, part of the talk left, walk right approach which has dogged the party. (Who can trust the party these days?)
While mobile networks connected consumers to the new world of Android and Google Apps, it is fibre cable which holds the promise of allowing consumers to turn into providers of information, while bringing IT capacity to small businesses seeking to compete on the international stage. South Africa’s digital economy is still in its infancy, and the cost of retarding growth for purely political and ideological reasons has demonstrated that when it comes to labour rights, one may want a dash of Marx but when it comes to a flagging economy, what you really need are economic theories based in the here and now, geared to the problems of the day, not the 19th century.
DAY 17 PM Once again I get through to an operator. According to her, my order of 1 August is not on the system, but technicians ‘were at my premises yesterday’ she says, sadly the order was, surprise surprise, cancelled. She promises to follow up, to see what happened. I tell her that aside from the internal inquiry in the company (and a potential suite for damages) I still need my service to be installed at my new address as guaranteed. Since the company is an SOE, liability is restricted. I probably still have a shot at a complaint to an Ombud, but there is precious little I can do to stop the behemoth from needlessly damaging my own business. R50 airtime later and I am once again cut off by Vodacom, which appears to eschew calls to other operator service numbers. Calling service numbers is a bit like playing slot machines in R20 increments.
Never fear, the mobile counter at Checkers offers various SIM packages with free connectivity deals, there is Vodacom’s Free Facebook connect, and a Cell C free for R12 Whatsapp deal. But no free service numbers across networks. No allowance for error on anyone’s part. Then there’s the fine print, in order to purchase a new SIM one needs to RICA the SIM, and in order to comply with the legal result of the USA Patriot Act, renamed The Democracy Act in South Africa and all resulting from a suite of post-911 global Anti-Terror and Anti-Money Laundering legislation, one needs to provide paperwork such as proof of address on the off-chance I might be spying on my government, or part of an international terrorist syndicate. If adult persons such as myself find it hard going getting connected, what about pensioners and the infirm?
The 20 year one-horse cable race provided courtesy of the ANC reminds one of the joke about flogging the dead horse. A committee has been appointed to inquire into why the dead horse is not doing its job.
DAY 18 I go into town, recharge, only to have mobile data suck my account dry. Neglected to turn it off, me bad, buy hey why is the default plan always pay, pay, pay? I get to a Telkom outlet, only to speak to a Tony Ehrenreich lookalike, replete with golfing shirt. He claims he can’t help me, since “this is a Telkom mobile outlet” and “we’re a mobile company”, but nevertheless puts me on a free line to a helpdesk. I speak to the operator, assured that my precious mobile units are not being eaten. The operator is adamant that the address where my new line is to be installed is in Woodstock not Muizenburg, I ask her if she is perhaps a foreigner? No, she says she grew up in KZN. Never been to Cape Town? No. Never studied geography? No. ‘Cape Town, its a major a metro, you should visit Muizenburg sometime, you would like it,’ I say. She duly completes yet another reorder and issues a reference number. I get home only to open my Telkom bill, to find there’s an offer of a ‘free cordless phone, our housewarming gift to you,” in fine print at the bottom of the damn thing. To receive it, I would have to apply for a relocation online. Is this all just a perverse case of reward and punishment? The corporation is punishing me for not applying for a gift, via the appropriate channels?
DAY 21 I receive yet another chummy “Dear Customer” sms, this time thanking me for ordering a telephone service for my new address. Apparently my “order” is receive attention and further communication will follow. The sms thanks me for choosing Telkom. “your service provider”
DAY 24 I am admitted to the online club of fuming Telkom users, each one with a jarring story to tell. There’s the guy whose service failed, who then upgraded to a 20mb line, expecting better service for more money, only to find he was now being billed for a service unavailable to the area he lives in, and to make matters worse, he is now blacklisted for refusing to pay up. Or the customer who got told Telkom don’t install cables in ‘black townships’ due to supposed cable theft. (whatever happened to fibre to the curb or fibre to the home?) Or the lady whose four year saga involving payments and no-service really takes the cake in terms of limited liability and refusal to abide by a government decreed service mandate, one of many election promises made by the ruling party. A litany of complaints involving failure to repair lines, even in popular metro areas. The abuse of debit orders. A culture of ineptitude and buck-passing, and abdication of responsibility. As the Peter Principle dictates, ordinary people will always rise to their own level of incompetence.
DAY 25 Am considering building my own telco. Another SMS arrives, this time with a more serious tone: Dear Client, Telkom will send a representative to your premises to fulfil your request … we have scheduled an all-day appointment for Monday. That’s right, an all-day appointment productivity sink. The company also demands various documents such as a certified copy of my ID. So much for being a loyal customer. Or perhaps they’re just concerned I may have changed my identity in the past 5 years that I’ve been getting service from them. Enough time to take those hormone shots?
TO BE CONTINUED
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.
READING blogs about the saga involving Telkom’s insistance that Internet dialup during callmore time’s “FREE local and long distance calls of up to an hour per call” is not included in the “terms and conditions” of the ordinary landline contract, is like watching roadkill on the information highway as consumers get run-down by multinational corporate communications staff who think a R900pm phone bill is par for the course.
As an ordinary consumer, just wanting to experience a little bit of the net, in my own time, on a budget and on my own terms, I’m flabbergasted at this blatant denial of consumer rights.
Fortunately this country has some progressive legislation when it comes to telecommunications, and I would be extremely interested in seeing how Telkom manages to explain all this away with regards to contract:
a) They are not providing me with Internet Service, which I have purchased from a third party.
b) There is no connection between the contract I signed and the terms and conditions as they are being applied. Hell, there is no definition of modem or data, and absolutely no mention of the word “internet”.