Last Friday week we had another bout of load-shedding between 6pm and 8pm. The official period of load shedding in our area is shown as 2 ½ hours, so we are very grateful when the power comes back on half an hour earlier. In fact, these days we are becoming pathetically grateful for any electricity at all, notwithstanding our paying an exorbitant amount for it when we do get it.

This is the problem with ‘creeping third worldism’, though; you become grateful to your beloved ruling party for all the things most other citizens in the civilized world take for granted. First electricity, next water and before too long food supplies. Take a photo of those groaning grocery shelves at your favourite supermarket to remind yourself in the future as to what things were like just before SA descended into Venezueladom.

After the Friday load-shed, our Telkom ADSL modem wasn’t working and, after a few attempts to reboot it, I decided to report the fault. On Monday morning the fixed line had also gone dead so I thought a visit to the local Telkom shop was in order.

I have long been that rarest of breeds, a huge fan of Telkom. I know there are many out there who haven’t had great experiences and call them Helkom, but I cannot speak highly enough about the service I have received over the years. When we moved from the golden corridor suburb of Parktown North to the Western Cape, I anticipated huge problems in cancelling the service up there – but my fears were totally unfounded.

As arranged, the fixed line was terminated the day before we were due to move and when we arrived at our new home there was a Telkom technician on site to connect the new landline. A few days later we collected a modem from the local Telkom shop and a few hours later had broadband connectivity. It was the sort of service you rave about to friends. I wanted to send them flowers and cases of wine.

When fibre was introduced to our estate, with all sorts of tempting deals to lure one in, I resisted. Although I only had Telkom ADSL connectivity, it worked perfectly well and I could happily watch Netflix on a smart TV with only the occasional buffering on a Friday night when everyone else had much the same idea, no doubt. I’d also managed to switch my contract with Telkom to an even better uncapped arrangement at a lower price. Monthly billing was always efficient and I looked forward to the SMS every month thanking me for paying my rent on time and positively updating my TPN credit record, whatever that is. Telkom were the dog’s bollocks, as far as I was concerned.

Then a few months ago a telemarketer from Telkom phoned me and told me that ADSL was being withdrawn because of continuing cable theft and I was being migrated to something called LTE. Did I have a choice? I asked, and apparently I didn’t, so it wasn’t so much a migration as a forced removal (cries here of ‘inappropriate insensitivity’ from woke readers). I would be sent a nice Huawei 4G router and a SIM card and would, from now on, receive my broadband via a mast. I researched it on Google and, while it wasn’t as good as fibre connectivity, it was better than ADSL and I was getting the 10mbps upload/download deal for what I was paying Telkom every month anyway. What was not to like? The other advantage was that I would take the router on holiday with me and get unlimited broadband just by plugging it in.

So the router duly arrived and I slipped the SIM card in and plugged it in for the 72 hours it needed to connect with the system and get up and running. That night, the ghost of Alexander Graham Bell appeared to me and told me to unplug the router sharpish and ask my neighbour how well his was working before I proceeded. The short answer to that was, ‘Bloody awful’. At that point I was still connected to the internet via the Telkom ADSL system and went on to their website to check LTE coverage of our area. Nil, nix, bugger all and zilch. Telkom had sent us a piece of kit that wasn’t designed to work where we lived.

So it was down to the Telkom shop on Monday to find out what the hell was going on. The consultant couldn’t have been more helpful and I weep to think that hers may be one of the 3 000 jobs about to be sacrificed. She had to keep leaving the desk to have a word with her manager but it came as news to her that LTE wasn’t available in my area; something she confirmed when she also checked the Telkom website. Could we perhaps go back to ADSL meanwhile, then? Apparently not, because that account had been closed in anticipation of opening the non-operative LTE account and they weren’t opening any more ADSL accounts because of aforementioned cable theft. Fibre, then? No, they don’t supply my area notwithstanding that at least 15 other service providers seem to manage.

I don’t live in a remote rural area and yet Telkom are unable to supply me with a fixed line, ADSL connectivity, LTE or fibre. Is it any wonder they are up shit creek without a paddle and about to sack a third of their workforce? Clearly the left hand is unaware of the right hand’s existence, let alone knowing what it is doing.

As I said to my helpful consultant, it was like the break up of a relationship. I’ve been a loyal paying customer since 1981 and suddenly it’s all over between us. What the family courts call ‘irretrievable breakdown of the relationship’.  I hadn’t even been seeing another service provider.

I was about to shed a parting tear when my wife reminded me that, although we pay for a post box every year, we also no longer have a functioning postal system. This is just the beginning, she said. So I’m stocking up on baked beans just in case she’s right and, after much consideration, am putting my connected future in the hands of Vox Telecom.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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David Bullard
After 27 years in financial markets in London and Johannesburg David Bullard had a mid life career change and started writing for the Sunday Times. His "Out to Lunch" column ran for 14 years and was generally acknowledged to be one of the best read columns in SA with a readership of 1.7mln every week. Bullard was sacked by the ST for writing a "racist" column in 2008 and carried on writing for a variety of online publications and magazines. He currently writes for dailyfriend.co.za and politicsweb.co.za.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Quite right. It’s unbelievable that Telkom, who incidentally had a legislated monopoly for landlines in South Africa until the 2000s, can no longer do landline calls.

    My wife runs a business from home. We, too, don’t have LTE coverage but have been informed that LTE it will be. Needless to say that Telkom is, not quite inadvertently, killing businesses around South Africa.

    The ANC mindset has truly permeated every tiny crevice of the SOE landscape.

  2. When we migrated from a commercial wireless network, we INSISTED that Telkom send a tech with an LTE modem to show us that it worked IN OUR HOUSE. It did work, and served us successfully until our complex got fibre and everyone changed over. But NOW, the fibre has some sort of a relay, that’s on the same electricity circuit as our complex – so when power goes out – so does the Internet! We had a UPS, that kept us in contact by powering the old modem, but that’s no good when the FIBRE supplier has the same problem as you! By the way, Telkom is not putting physical wiring anywhere now – it just gets stolen. They do have what’s called a “Fixed Line Look-Alike”, which is a large desk-phone sized device that operates on Telkom’s own cell network – but with fixed-line type billing. (And with its own battery!)

  3. In the early early 2000s Telkom already wanted to drop copper in favour of cellular or wireless due to copper theft but that was blocked by the ANC who insisted that they keep copper as too many jobs will be lost.

    No surprises there. ANC politics destroying the economy.

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