SA’s Internet access lower than other African Countries

I hate the complete lack of any leeway a call centre offers in solving a problem. The disadvantage of writing a weekly column is coming up with a topic every Sunday. But one of the privileges is that after I have given up on the call centre, my complaints in this column normally achieve some response. MTN has sorted out my bills. Standard Bank got my replacement card delivered speedily. DStv has found a way to allow one account to be used at two locations at separate times with no extra cost.

RCS, the retail lender I ranted about last week, has refunded my colleague’s housekeeper her R29,25 for the unwanted magazine — and promised to get hold of everyone else affected by its system change and make the same correction. A responsive company is far more likely to retain customers and grow.

The one corporate that has never responded also has the worst call centre — Telkom. (After my most recent complaint a nice Telkom employee did try to help unofficially but said Telkom has a policy of not responding to articles.)

Though the performances of Transnet and Eskom have perked up recently, government still controls a few disasters. Our national carrier, SA Airways, may have required multiple recapitalisations but its lousy performance has not subtracted from economic growth in the way Telkom’s has. The presence of viable, long-standing competition in the space probably has much to do with that.

Though virtually all call centres are frustrating, Telkom’s makes an art of passing blame from one division to the next. Our telephone and DSL account are registered in my husband’s name, which means only he can make telephonic changes to our service or account. As the resident IT geek , I have twice dragged my husband into a Telkom branch to “register” myself on the account. Telkom’s call centre has no record of the copies it took of our IDs or the form we filled in on both visits.

SA’s broadband download speed ranks 114th of the 174 countries ranked daily on Aside from the expected leaders, like Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Sweden and Norway, SA’s speed puts it below Colombia, Nicaragua, Tajikistan, Guam, Armenia and the Ukraine. Telkom’s performance has been rather pathetic.

Alison Gillwald, executive director of Research ICT Africa, notes that “despite SA being an early adopter of most new technologies, it has an extraordinarily low Internet penetration rate for a lower middle- income country.” She goes on to say that though “South Korea and SA were comparatively placed on ITU ratings 15-20 years ago, Korea is now a top global performer.”

According to, only 13,9% of the SA population had Internet access at the end of 2011. In Kenya it is 25,5%, Nigeria 29% and Senegal 15,7%.

Moreover, Telkom has 795000 ADSL users while MTN and Vodacom have 1,4m and 1,7m 3G modem users respectively. Vodacom reports 13,5m data users (including smartphones) and MTN 9,5m in SA. Government regulation should be opening the door to private-sector participation, not limiting it.

Enabling policy would allow Internet-based education to compensate for our bad teachers. And promote the growth of those awful call centres, which do create lots of jobs. If government chooses to continue wasting taxpayer money on SAA, Telkom and the teachers’ unions, that is unfortunate. But at least provide consumers and pupils with access to another option.

After all, RCS is responsive because it does not want to lose customers to other lenders. Not because the management team wants to be nice.

[date:] 2012-04-26

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