Telkom South Africa: more clowns than a three-ring circus

As a researcher, I need access to data.  As a man far from home, I need network bandwidth for Skype calls.  As a consumer, I demand fair and accurate dealing from the companies with whom I contract.  Telkom South Africa has demonstrated that is woefully incapable of satisfying any of these roles.

I assumed control of an existing Telkom DSL and phone contract when I moved into Turtle House.  I assumed that working with Telkom would be easier than starting an altogether new service in the house, a process that may require multiple weeks.  I even upgraded the service to 4 Mbps and 20 GB/month at the time I assumed the line, working with the friendly folks at the Telkom Direct store at Tyger Valley Shopping Centre.

When I tested the service I had acquired, though, I was appalled.  Their promises of getting my line switched to 4 Mbps in the course of that week were entirely hollow.  I have never seen the service reach as high as 1.5 Mbps, and frequently it dipped below 1 Mbps, a service level that makes even Skype audio conversations quite choppy.

Within ten days, I had gone public with my unhappiness:

The very next day I received notification that my service had finally been switched to 4 Mbps.  I dutifully performed a speed test:

Far from reaching 4 Mbps, I was still in a range that would be unacceptable even for 2 Mbps service.  I became a regular caller of their 10210 customer service line.  On January 26th, the customer service person admitted that my home line was not rated for 4 Mbps and was marked with a maximum speed of 2 Mbps.  She noted that the salesmen at Telkom Direct could see on their computers that my address was not capable of 4 Mbps service; they had sold me a contract that they knew they could not fulfill.

The next morning I was at the Telkom Direct store, brandishing her words.  The same sales agent as before raised his hands in the air, saying that his computer shows great coverage in my area, professing his confusion that I’m not enjoying their great product.  He sadly admitted that his systems don’t show any technical information.  He reduced my 4 Mbps contract to a 2 Mbps contract.  No, he couldn’t tell me when a Telkom technician would be able to visit my home.

On February 3rd, I spoke with the first really helpful representative I have ever reached through that service.  She continued that my line was showing a clear fault.  My home required a point-to-point test to figure out where the wiring fault lay, and I was showing erratic DSL sync speeds.  She (like others before her) would mark the fault as requiring “urgent” redress.  I should hear from a line tester rapidly.

Gratingly, the next day I received a text from the company informing me that my service had been restored (though nobody had visited the home or the network exchange box).  The company had taken my “urgent” problem and simply declared it solved.  I was back on the 10210 line again with them that night.  A series of representatives marked my account as urgent, and of course nothing happened.  You can even see their Twitter team making claims that they’ll get me some feedback:

While I was sick at home on February 9th, I called the 10210 number again.  I told them that I was home anyway, so why don’t they try sending a technician?  They promised an “urgent” response.  On February 10th, after I tried unsuccessfully to return to my normal work schedule, I received a few phone calls from a number while I was in a meeting at work.  I called back as soon as I could.

I was astonished to hear that a Telkom line serviceman had been dispatched to my home!  When could I be there to let him in?  I replied “half an hour” and jumped into my car.  He was there five minutes after I arrived, and he set to work.  I repeated the information about the need for a point-to-point test and an erratic sync rate, and he dutifully ignored it.  At one point, he said, “I think I have found your problem,” and he began to pick up my Network Attached Storage device (a redundant hard drive system in active service).  I told him to set that down SLOWLY and pointed out that it was not connected between the wall and the router so therefore it was not the problem.  He ran some tests on the line and claimed they were all clean.  He showed me his work list for the neighborhood; it was full of other phone numbers with failed DSL service.  He said, “until someone deals with the overcrowded exchange, you’ll have this problem.”  I asked when someone would deal with the exchange, and he said he’d make a note (I tried not to roll my eyes).

While he was there, I though it might be helpful to have a live call with the 10210 people.  I called them again, and a real go-getter answered the phone.  I explained that I was standing next to their line technician, who had just told me that the exchange required repairs.  The customer service fellow replied that the exchange was scheduled for a maintenance on Feb. 11th (the next day!) from 11AM to 4PM.  I noted that “maintenance” was not what we needed; it was time for a serious fix to the problematic exchange.  He reported that the scheduled maintenance would be moving all the DSL lines to a new node that would equip them for up to 10 Mbps access.  He provided the line fault reference number (54CWK060216).  I discussed this information with the line tester while the go-getter remained on the phone.

Sadly, the go-getter’s information was entirely false.  My first considered activity upon returning home this evening was to run the network speed tester.  The result was just as disappointing as all the others.  The line was still incapable of reaching 1.5 Mbps, let alone 2 Mbps.  I placed yet another call to 10210.  In total I spent approximately two hours in this call.

I started with a first-line customer service representative.  She reported that no technician has been assigned to my line fault reference number.  How could that be possible, I asked, when I was standing next to the line tester when I had called only the day before?  I pressed her pretty hard to ask about the status of the exchange maintenance that had been slated for today, February 11th.  She reported that that information would not appear in her database.  That twigged a sick feeling in me, and she transferred me to her supervisor for a more authoritative answer.

The supervisor was pretty bothered by what I had to say.  He spent approximately a half hour checking with people around him, but in the end, he reported that nobody who answers the 10210 number would have access to the technical support schedules, so there’s no way that the go-getter had information to support his claim that the exchange would be serviced on February 11th.  The go-getter had simply lied to me since he wouldn’t face any fallout from doing so.

The next problem that arose was that no technician had been attached to my line fault.  Who was the person who had appeared at my house yesterday?  Shouldn’t the line tester have been noted in the system as attached to my line fault?  Shouldn’t his results from the testing be added to their database?  Nobody seemed to have any clue about the multiple failures on this visit.  Welcome to Telkom, the company where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing!

I explained to the supervisor that I had been misled a variety of ways by Telkom since the beginnings of my dealings with them.  He could see the backlog of my calls to 10210.  Is a customer who calls your service line every other day for two weeks a happy customer?  Not even close.  I told him that Telkom had breached its contract with me by failing to provide the DSL service described in the contract.  I told him that Telkom had knowingly provided me false information.  If they’d told me that due to the financial pinch they simply couldn’t afford to upgrade our exchange box, we’d be in a different category, but instead the go-getter had simply lied to get me off his back.  A contract is binding on both partners, and a contract is not valid when it is with a company that lies to me.

He transferred me to the accounts office.  The woman who answered seemed very confused that I was speaking with her.  Why did I think that the Accounts office could terminate my contract?  I asked her why the Customer Service people on 10210 would have thought her office was the right one.  She explained that I could either send an email to to cancel my service or I could go back to the Telkom Direct sales people at Tyger Valley Mall.  She then asked if I had spoke to the technical support people yet.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure.  She transferred me over there.

I spoke with technical support for a while, and we returned to the issue of the identity of the line tester.  This time I remembered that my cell phone showed the line tester’s attempts to reach me in the call history.  I provided his cell phone to Telkom.  I imagine that they would like to know who he is.  Eventually we reached an impasse on the information available to the technical support representative, and he transferred me to his supervisor.  After a few seconds, the line went dead.

Telkom, all you had to accomplish was DSL service of 2 Mbps and provide me factual information when I had questions about my service.  Intentionally providing false information is unacceptable from a person, and it is unacceptable from a company.  I look forward to shredding my contract at the Telkom Direct store tomorrow.  I would rather have no service at all than deal with Telkom’s inadequacies.


3 thoughts on “Telkom South Africa: more clowns than a three-ring circus

  1. Pingback: Euphemisms in South African News | Picking Up The Tabb

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