Competition arrives

2008-08-04 00:00

Only last week a businessman wrote to this newspaper of his frustration with the service provided – or in his case not provided — by Telkom. Having relocated to one of the city’s major business and industrial estates, he found that he faced weeks of costly communication silence because Telkom was unable to link up his telephone lines in good time. It is a familiar complaint. Telkom has made improvements to its services in recent years, but many feel that breaking its mono-poly is long overdue.

It is welcome news, therefore, that a competitor has at last arrived in the province. Last week Neotel launched its consumer services in Durban, the last major metropolitan area to be reached by the company. Pietermaritzburg is next on the waiting list, although the wait may extend into next year.

Originally dealing with large enterprises, the company is now making provision for small business and domestic users, and beyond being a second player in the field it apparently offers a different technology, with cellphones that combine voice call and Internet access.

Potential customers will have many questions. If it will take the remainder of the year to set up the system in the Durban area, rural consumers may well wonder when, and even if, it is likely to become available to them. It is they who have been most affected by disruptions of the Telkom services through cable theft, storm damage or other breakdowns. They will wonder, too, whether the Neotel system will be any more reliable. Another question will certainly be cost. In fact, this may be the prime concern of the householder whose main interest is not advanced technology but having dependable and economical communication with family and friends.

Many calculations may have to be done, but the general view is that competition should lead to more efficient and more affordable services. With the arrival of Neotel that assumption can be tested. Whatever the findings, consumers will now be able to do their own comparisons and make their own choices, and that is a big step towards empowerment.

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