NEWS & ANALYSIS

My Telkom hell

David Bullard says the company is on a mission to make him pay for services they refuse to provide

OUT TO LUNCH

The collapse of South Africa’s infrastructure under ANC rule is truly frightening. And it’s not just a matter of the ANC ‘cadres’ filling their pockets and buying luxury cars at the taxpayer’s expense. It’s far more mundane than that. Remember when we had a thing called the Post Office? The place where your reminder would appear before you had to cough up the bucks and renew your car license disc? Or the place where your birthday cards and Christmas cards might turn up before the day. Well, that’s all a happy memory because these days we have nothing even approaching a first world postal service.

When I arrived in the UK a couple of years ago on holiday I realised I had brought the wrong charger for my digital camera. So I went online and ordered a replacement which arrived by first class post the following morning. Simple, cheap and efficient.

When I try and explain to my extended family that the reason we don’t send them birthday or Christmas cards is not because we are too mean spirited but because we simply don’t have the first world luxury of a functioning post office.

Equally pointless is trying to explain to overseas friends and relatives that anything they sent us would have been torn open in the hope of finding cash or something to steal and sell. The last parcel that arrived intact to me was a birthday present of a T-shirt from my sister in the UK. There was a catch however…. I had to pay R783 import duty on a birthday present costing less than a quarter of that amount. Since it had taken three months to get here I didn’t want to seem ungrateful so grudgingly paid up.

Despite the valiant attempts of Mark Barnes to get the Post Office up and running as a commercial enterprise it has turned out to be a lamentable failure. I know Mark from my financial market days and he is as solid and a patriotic citizen as you could hope to meet and had all the management skills to do the job but eventually even he realized that in a state which encourages entitlement over effort he was backing a lame horse. Why do we even pretend to still have a postal system when it’s quite clear we don’t?

Even worse though is Telkom which, although only part owned by the state seems to be even more of a train smash.

In January this year my phone line suddenly died one Friday night. So on Saturday I duly reported the fault online. By Monday my ADSL connection also died so I had no option but to visit my local Telkom store and try and find a solution. It turned out that Telkom had unilaterally decided, without any warning, to discontinue my service because they were finally giving up on land line connections due to cable theft.

Although I’m not the account holder I had received a cheerful call the previous November from someone telling me I would be sent an LTE modem free of charge from Telkom and this would be the answer to all my problems. I signed nothing, and contracted nothing (not being the account holder) but the LTE modem duly arrived two months later.

My neighbour was in the same situation and he followed the Telkom instructions and fired up the modem to no effect. It was then that I decided to go onto the Telkom website where I discovered that my address had no coverage any longer for a land line or for ADSL.

either did it have coverage for LTE or for fibre connectivity. In fact, Telkom (who I had previously dealt with and paid timeously for the previous 35 years) couldn’t offer me any service whatsoever and yet I have been receiving a monthly invoice since January. I thought it prudent at the time to take a screen shot of their webpage just in case.

As it happens it’s just as well I did because a debt collection agency called Blake Collections based in Mt Edgecombe, Natal contacted me telling me I owe Telkom a large amount of money for a service I don’t receive. I sent them a full explanation and a copy of the screen shot and have not had the courtesy of a response since then.

I also had an e-mail letter of demand from Telkom telling me to contact them immediately. The e-mail came from a ‘no-reply’ address and the phone lines explained that nobody was there to take the call because of COVID.

So my wife and I went onto the Telkom website and sent various messages to the accounts address. Eventually we received an SMS that our problem had been solved followed a few minutes later by another SMS telling us that we owed them even more money.

We recently received an SMS saying that our non-existent service has been suspended which came as something of a relief. In the good old days if you didn’t pay your phone bill on time they would cut you off and charge a R150 reconnection fee. Since we were unlikely to be reconnected having our service suspended wasn’t going to be a problem. And then along came another invoice.

Communications with Telkom go unanswered and the local Telkom “help centre” (stifle that laugh) haven’t a clue what to do and give us a different answer and an apparently fake reference number every time we visit.

After the last attempt to contact the Telkom online accounts department we received two phishing phone calls from ‘Telkom’ representatives telling us to log on to a website which had nothing to do with Telkom, presumably in the hopes of extracting money from us. When I told the caller to give me his number and I would call him back he started swearing at me. It does seem a massive coincidence that these calls came hot on the heels of our e-mail to Telkom.

So the bill mounts every month and I’ve decided that the only solution is to send Telkom a bill for the seven course meal with wine pairing I never served their board members recently. Maybe then they’ll get the message that people don’t pay for something they don’t receive.

The really worrying thing about his though is that I read recently that Telkom is about to diversify into the financial services sector and start selling insurance policies. Presumably this is because they have made such a balls up of telecommunications that anything must be easier than that. Based on my (and many others I suspect) experience of these clowns and their catastrophic billing system I would avoid doing any business with Telkom and I certainly wouldn’t be paying them an insurance premium every month if you ever hope to see your money again. Just another example of another SOE falling apart I’m afraid.

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And on the subject of connectivity isn’t it wonderful that, during these troubled COVID times, we can still connect with one another? E commerce has taken off and meetings at the office have been replaced with Zoom sessions and Webinars. Who needs to go the theatre when you can watch a live performance online and why bother to go to a restaurant when you can order online and get home delivery?

There are already worries that expensive office real estate in major cities will never be needed again as workers are encouraged to self distance and work from home. The previously throbbing business districts of London and New York are now like ghost towns with restaurants and bars closed and boarded up and no sign of normality returning. All of which poses the uncomfortable question … what happens to commerce if the entire internet collapses? And would it be in any country’s interest to cause such a collapse?

Just an idle thought.