‘Data costs will leave ’Plain in stone age’

Eastridge doctor Ellapen Rapiti believes that residents living in the poorest areas of Mitchell’s Plain are being short-changed by Telkom.

He said the parastatal has not replaced stolen cables in the area and the cost of wi-fi data is unaffordable.

“My main gripe with Telkom is their refusal to install cables after they are stolen by thieves in Tafelsig, Eastridge and Beacon Valley.

“Telkom has decided not to replace the landlines in these areas for the past three years due to repeated cable theft.

“This means that residents can only access the internet through wi-fi modems with very expensive packages.”

Dr Rapiti said he recently bought a 10 gigabyte (GB) package and wi-fi modem and was shocked to discover that the modem chewed up 4GB of data in three days.

“We only use the internet to email documents and for our daily accounts transmission. In the past I used to do much more using the Telkom lookalike phone and I would only use 5 GB for the whole month. I contacted Telkom and other service providers and none of them could give me a suitable explanation for the high usage of data. I checked on the internet to find out if other people experienced similar problems and I was shocked to learn that one elderly couple lost 4.5GB overnight even after they switched everything off. They were given the run-around by Telkom’s customer services.”

According to Dr Rapiti, another customer who merely used the internet for minor applications bought a 30GB package and by the 20th of the month his data was depleted.

“It then dawned on me that the router uses up a higher amount of data when accessing the internet through Long-Term Evolution (LTE). I switched my modem to 3G and I managed to control the high data usage. I can lose about 100 megabytes of data in one hour; even if I did not go onto the internet.

“It then dawned on me that it is not in the service providers’ interest to inform the public the wi-fi modems will cost a lot of data because it is business for them,” he said.

Telkom’s spokesman Gugulethu Maqetuka said business and residential customers are severely affected by an alarming amount of copper cable theft which results in service interruptions and a decrease in the speed of connections.

To curb this issue, Telkom has opted to use wireless-based products, which are offered to customers as an alternative to the normal fixed-wire line service.

Mr Maqetuka said the company had explored many options to curb the scourge of cable theft by beefing up security at critical and sensitive cable routes and employing armed security firms; using wireless technology rather than copper; assessing vulnerable aerial cable routes and, where feasible, burying them underground; working closely with the Non-Ferrous Theft Combating Committee (NFTCC) under the auspices of Business Against Crime and police to find ways of protecting cable networks and launching a national campaign to raise awareness about crime.

He said the company has tried to restore interrupted services as quickly as possible.

“It is important to note that each incident of cable theft needs to be handled uniquely. Some cases allow for the replacement of the stolen copper cable, while others need alternative access technology.

“Importantly, both cases entail a process of assessment, funding, planning and deployment. Some delays can also be attributed to the recurrence of theft and procedural time lapses associated with the process for acquiring wayleaves from the relevant metropolitan and town councils, as well as Environmental Impact Assessment studies that are essential especially in the advent of converting to a wireless intervention,” he said.

Dr Rapiti said most other areas which have landlines and uncapped internet with 4meg speed, pay a mere R199 a month.

“In Mitchell’s Plain, a 20GB package, which won’t last 10 days will cost R399. I feel such a cost is abusing a poor community, which cannot afford the high cost of wi-fi internet. This community will not be able to access YouTube and children will not be able to do research on the internet for their school projects. Effectively this community will be left in the stone age when it comes to communication,” he said.

Mr Maqetuka said Telkom has over the years tried to provide high quality products to consumers at reduced prices.

“This includes the launch of our game changing product, FreeMe, which cost a third (R0.69c a MB) of what the next lowest operator is charging (R1.75 a MB).

“Our lowest in bundle rate (Sim Sonke) is (R0.29c a MB) which is unheard of and is provided to all our prepaid customers compared to other operators charging up to (R2 a MB).”

Mr Maqetuka said they have over 6 000 hot spots where customers can get free data and make Instant Messaging (IM) calls free. He said FreeMe prices start at R69 a month for 1GB with unlimited SMSes and free instant messaging, including WhatsApp, Viber and BBM. The price rises to R999 per month for unlimited data, unlimited SMSes and unlimited calls. Home internet prices start from R199 for 5GB of LTE wireless broadband and include a wi-fi router.

Mr Maqetuka said the demand for data increased substantially in South Africa with mobile data increasing by 72% over the past year, from 21 700 terabytes (TB) for the 2015 financial year to 37 307 TB in 2016.

To report cable theft call Telkom’s toll-free crime-report line on 0800124000

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