Opinion: The Internet is still a cash cow!

I’ve been writing articles and columns about the state of Internet access in South Africa for a while now. I’ve lamented the monopoly of Telkom, and the drastic changes to the landscape since major cables like Seacom and EASSY have landed in the country. ADSL is becoming cheaper to subscribe to and maintain, but too many people are still left high and dry – including me. And it’s beginning to piss me off in a big way.

Yes, I live here. Roughly. About 2km from this spot. More or less.

I live in Jeffreys Bay, home to some of the most beautiful beaches and people in the country. Here you get GSM coverage from your three providers: Cell C, Vodacom and MTN. But the service rendered by the respective providers is literally all over the place. Cell C provides the most stable connection, but currently has no 3G signal anywhere. I was satisfied when my 24GB Speedstick worked perfectly here, and when I could take advantage of the free 500MB when topping up a pre-paid card with R50. Vodacom likewise actually has a decent speed here, but occasional throughput drops make it frustrating to use their service for Skype, e-mail or my work.

MTN is also here with both stable 3G and GSM/EDGE, but they’re so much more expensive. Their recently-launched “Smartphone Services” makes their data bundles look like good value, but in the end they’re misleading clients as much as the other two. So what other options do I have left?

I could go for a wireless local provider that I used to work for, but that’s not going to work. They require a hefty installation fee and their only service that I’m interested in, uncapped 4Mb/s for R400 per month will throttle me so badly once I’m over 5GB that it’s pointless getting it – I have to limit the whole house to 1GB per work day of downloads and browsing just to avoid the throttling. Plus, being my old workplace, I don’t really want that kind of awkwardness dealing with my ex-colleagues and boss. Knowing, intricately, all the details of how their network functions, and knowing all the root passwords to every wireless device I could easily be refused service based on paranoia that I might go and do something stupid (but they don’t know that I already figured out how to cover my tracks, but anyway).

So, to Telkom? I’d love to actually – I live very close to the main exchange in town, so there’s no fear of congestion. All we’d have to do is get a techie down to the house to re-wire in a new phone box, subscribe to Closer 2 for R177 to avoid the installation fees, upgrade to 1Mb/s for R289, sign up for uncapped somewhere for about R300 and still get a wireless router for R400. How on earth is it still possible that the outlay to get Internet to a household is over R1,000? Telkom’s DSL subscriber numbers are dropping but the reason is the high price of the constant upkeep and the prohibitive costs of getting things running. Why can’t we have our monopolistic service provider get their fibre network to their exchanges and the nearest curb done already so that the last-mile access becomes cheaper?

Oh wait, Telkom can’t do that. They’re owned by the government. The fat cats need more money. Wonderful.

Please wake me up when there’s proper competition in this country. In the meantime, I’ll be busy clicking that reconnect button to get a Vodacom signal here.