Telkom is 'a fat kid sitting on a pile of sweets'

As you’ll have noticed, the Dark Lords of Mordor at the Mail & Guardian Online decided that this column should have a “theme” each week—instead of the previous random madness of insane assorted. (Presumably to try to increase the traffic stats, and thus get more advertising revenue.) Does it work? Who knows? Send them mail and tell them. Get interactive.

Here’s this weeks “theme”, which I’ve subtly and charmingly titled Let’s Kick, Then Privatise Telkom’s Ugly, Fat, Flabby, Greedy Ass.

As you may know, we are one of the most expensive countries on Earth for internet access.
Why? Well, go ask the company that controls the “pipe” in and out of South Africa—the company that was created using our tax money and which is now technically a “private” company that recently announced a R6-billion profit for its shareholders.

Some of those shareholders just happen to be the same politicians that delight in keeping the South African market under the control of just one company. Start off by reading Telkom Facts and Info.

If you think this all means nothing to you, then check how much you paid for your phone bill last month, and the past six months in total. See what percentage of your entire salary goes on phone costs and internet access: 20%? 40%?

And read about the supposedly “qualified” person that is in charge of our communications industry, at Asleep on the Job, Minister?.

Bear in mind that this is the same minister who made the clearly racist comment about “not wanting a sector to be monopolised by people who don’t look like me”. Read Minister Stuns with ‘Look-Like-Me’ Comment.

Even President Thabo Mbeki pointed out as far back as February in his State of the Nation address that the charges by Telkom are “unacceptable”.

Suspiciously, nothing changes. Despite Mbeki’s February statement, here we are in July, and notice that the government is still bleating like a little sheep and “calling on players in the industry to find a solution”. (I thought that’s what having a government was for?) Read Government Admits SA Telecom Prices ‘Prohibitive’.

As for the costs of internet access, well, there’s an internet pipe on which Telkom has its fat fingers, and it’s not letting go of it. Read The Sat 3 Fibre: The Monopoly. For a wider view of the situation, read The Shiny New Fibre Optic Undersea Cable.

That internet pipe was paid for by our taxes, and should not be under the control of one company—especially not a company that has a legal monopoly here and has the nerve to squeal like a stuck pig at any threats to its profit-taking and tries to portray itself as being just another profit-focused business. This defence is obviously a lie, given that no other telecommunications companies are allowed to exist or compete with it.

Telkom never was, and can never be, seen as “just another business”. It got to where it is because it was the only telecom company allowed to exist here. This artificial situation has bred a ferocious greed and arrogance in Telkom. Consider this article where it is stated with a straight face that Telkom considers the government to be a “risk factor” to its own profitability: Telkom Says Government Is the Risk Factor. Also read Telkom Rapped by Government.

Suggestions were made recently that the internet pipe in and out of South Africa should be officially designated a national resource and taken out of the hands of this pampered, spoiled and over-protected company. From March’s Financial Mail, read Telkom May Lose Sea Cable Profits.

Telkom responded to this obviously necessary step by suggesting that this would prevent it from creating other projects that would benefit citizens—a statement that can best be described as a veiled threat of corporate blackmail, directed at the state itself.

This kind of covert corporate blackmail isn’t new. Any suggestion of trying to block the pigs snuffling at the feeding trough is greeted by doublespeak from the pigs themselves. Note this attempt, for instance, by MTN to suggest that a Cellphone Price Cap Would Hurt SA.

To show the thug logic of the local cellphone companies, look carefully and thoughtfully at this next article where the cell operators firstly whine pathetically that “they deserve the profits they’re making”, and then switch to perverse doublespeak and try to suggest that the government shouldn’t use the fact of their high prices as the sole reason to step in and stop them. (In other words, “Yes, we’re stealing from the consumers, but the obvious fact of our theft shouldn’t be used as the reason for stopping us from doing it.”) Read Doublespeaking Cellphone Companies.

For more proof of corporate racketeering disguised as fake competition by cellphone companies, read Icasa Puts Cellphone Call Prices in Its Sights.

Back to Telkom. Read about the systems crash that Telkom had, costing us unknown quantities of money and cutting off South Africa from the rest of the world. Naturally, Telkom didn’t bother telling anyone: Telkom Internet System Crashes.

Currently, Telkom—which sit on the internet pipe like a fat kid sitting on a pile of sweets—sells bandwidth to a variety of companies, internet service providers (ISPs), which in turn “resell” the bandwidth to consumers, under a variety of different options. But it’s all controlled bandwidth from one single Sopranos-like company.

There are whispers of some new developments in the air, come August/September—and at the moment, the various resellers are offering relatively incredibly cheap rates for ADSL users. (Telkom is probably hoping that the majority of users who use Telkom as an ISP don’t notice this.)

Have a look at the unfolding price war, which began a few days ago. Look at the prices for the various packages at Axxess, then Saol and Web Africa.

(It has to be pointed out that this strange and sudden drop in prices from the initial seller of the original bandwidth, resulting in a “price war” between the resellers, could well be a tactic by Telkom to lure more ADSL users into its product, ahead of some nasty price hike, but time will tell.)

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has finally made some recommendations with regard to aspects of Telkom’s orgy of profiteering that—at time of writing—are still unknown, but which should be gazetted within a few days.

The public themselves are beginning to get active, mostly online, but here and there the absolute disgust with the current situation shows itself in the real world. Have a look at some photographs of a small recent Anti-Telkom Protest in Rosebank.

And the ultimate local site for finding out what exactly is going on, regardless of what kind of internet service you use, has to be the nearly 5 000-member-strong local forum My Broadband.

I firmly recommend you begin lurking and reading there, or sign up (for free) and join the growing army of online consumers. Knowledge after all, is power. Don’t rely on corporate newspapers and TV to give you information on subjects that are obviously not in their best interests.

Until the next time, if Telkom doesn’t get me.

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