Writing this review is going to be a struggle between my efforts to remain objective about the service being reviewed and the helpless rage I feel whenever I’m reminded of its provider.
About four months ago a number Durban journalists were taken to lunch by Telkom during which we were introduced to Telkom’s products for connecting to the Internet at high speed. During lunch I must have mentioned that I was reaching my wit’s end with my dial-up connection because a Telkom PR officer contacted me later to offer me the company’s HomeDSL 384 package on a three month trial basis.
ADSL is means to connect to the Internet using your telephone line at much faster speeds than a dial-up modem; in the case of the HomeDSL 384 package, that’s about seven times faster than would be possible with a modem. The system has the bonus that you’re connected to the Internet permanently for no extra charge and you can use your telephone at the same time.
I said yes to the offer, of course, jumped through the necessary hoops and ordered an Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line [ADSL] and Telkom 2GB ISP package. A few weeks later, a technician arrived at my home, installed the necessary bits and pieces including an ADSL modem. I managed to connect the it to my Windows XP computer but I had a few problems getting it to work properly and was eventually advised by the Telkom support desk to go and swap my modem for a new one at their closest shop.
That done, and after following the detailed instructions from the support desk, I was up and running on the Internet at what felt like awesome speeds. I visited all my usual sites in the blinking of eye and even stopped by at some, such as Sabrina’s XXX Cabaret, which I would never normally have dreamed of visiting, were I not intoxicated with the download speeds I was experiencing.
I knew that my dial-up connection was slow but I never realised how long I spent waiting around for it to connect and for even quite small pages to download. I now routinely get download speeds around 40Kb per second and no longer have to dread downloading an update for Windows or a large file someone has sent me by e-mail.
It was hard getting used to the fact that I no longer had to worry about mounting phone bills and didn’t have to download lots of web pages at a time so that I could read them offline. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it to be online all the time and to be able to look something up or check your mail whenever you want.
The drawback to the faster connection and ISP package, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is that it’s Telkom who is offering it. As a monopoly, they have no interest in customer service, apart from immediate technical support, which is usually pretty good, or charging you a reasonable price.
You are very much left to your own devices after your DSL line is installed and there is not even a booklet which explains what to do, or who phone when you have a problem. They insist on treating the DSL line and your Internet connection as separate things so that, if you strike a problem, you can struggle to know which help desk to phone.
The products could have been so much better if there had been a decent Getting Started booklet and, once online, a single website where you can change your password, get support information or check up on how much bandwidth you’ve used that month. Computers with a permanent Internet connection are more at risk from hackers and I feel new users should be alerted to this and offered information on how to secure their systems.
An incident a couple of days into my HomeDSL test showed me just how just how arrogant Telkom has become and how little importance they place on making us, the customers, happy. I switched on my computer and tried to access the Internet but it was unusably slow and it emerged that some bastard had somehow obtained my user name and password and used up more than twice my allocation of bandwidth in two days.
An e-mail I received from Telkom admitted that the usage did conform to the typical pattern experienced when bandwidth is stolen and, not only that, but that they knew which connection port had been used by the thief. They refused point-blank to give this information to me or to the police until the investigating officer had gone through the hassle and expense of getting a court order to force them to do so.
I then appealed to the Telkom authorities to switch my connection back on, on the grounds that they knew very well I hadn’t used the bandwidth, and because I wanted to finish my review of the product. Only an organisation sublimely indifferent to its public’s opinion would have refused, as they did, in spite of the fact that I am journalist and the story was bound to be published.
The last negative in connection with the Telkom HomeDSL 384 product and ISP package is the price which is many times more expensive in real terms than products available in other countries. My friend Marlene in Scotland had this to say when she heard about my new connection:
“We pay £29.99 for our 1 MB Broadband connection. At the current exchange rate (£1=R11.17; £29.99 = R334.99), R650 sounds quite expensive, considering we have a 30Gb monthly download allowance. It sounds as if Telkom is holding you guys to ransom.”
My 384kbps HomeDSL package, with 2Gb of traffic per month, is going to cost me the equivalent of 130 McDonalds cheeseburgers a month while Marlene, in the wilds of Scotland, pays the equivalent of 30 cheeseburgers a month for a connection which is nearly three times faster and allows you fifteen times the amount of traffic.
My verdict on the HomeDSL 384 and ISP package is that I really, really need the speed and always-on connection for my job. I also don’t think I can go back to a dial-up connection and keep my sanity. I’m going to keep the product for the time being, but only because there is no alternative. Let there ever be a really viable competitor, however, and we’ll see what we’ll see.
Mind you, I’m not holding my breath that the second network operator is going mean cheaper Internet prices for us because I suspect that they’ll be in bed with each before you can cough. To understand how the South African competition model typically works, just try and think of the last time you saw one of our three cellphone providers advertising cheaper calls than the competition.