I have been considering writing this piece for a while, every time I try to make a call and the robotic lady on the other side of the line tells me that I have insufficient funds, my blood boils and the urge to find out what my fellow citizens think of my views deepens.
I have been a contract customer with the same provider for close to twelve years, I have in fact, two contracts which is a result of my first phone being stolen and me being stupid enough to take out an alternative (and more expensive) contract to replace the handset.
Be that as it may, the stupidity didn’t end there, I have proceeded to upgrade these contracts every two years, being foolishly tempted by the allure of a new and shiny gadget (that does little more than its predecessor) every time. In all of this time, I have been promising myself that it will all end with the next cycle but alas, I know that I am just lying to myself. Stupidity aside, let me outline the trap and its devious cleverness for you. In the old days, little was required to take out a contract, a payslip, 3 month bank statement, and proof of residence would do the trick (what is now known by the fancy acronym of FICA documents).
I applied for my first contract on a Saturday and had my brand spanking new Ericsson T65 by the Monday afternoon at a cost of R135 a month. The problem with this was, it was an open contract so you get billed for what you use above what they give you for ‘free’. Of course you can set a limit (after the first months shock) but the limit is not 100% accurate and may not stop you in time I was told. This means, the service was happily provided and you would just happily have to pay for whatever comes with it. They have changed things now, instead on ‘minutes’, you get Rand value on your contract, does it equate to the same thing? The simple answer is NO.
Rand value is depleted at a rate dependant on which network you are calling at which time of the day as well as the structure of your package. Guess who scores out of this change? Certainly not the consumer…You never know how much you are going to come out of a call with. What makes things worse is now with number portability, you also never know which network you are calling!You also have the benefit of upgrading in your 20th month of your contract, you score right? WRONG!
The additional 4 months are carried over to your new contract period and you will then only be able to upgrade again in 24 months’ time (effectively the 20th month of your renewed contract) with the remaining 4 months still being carried over. This just serves to keep you tied into a contract forever by tempting you with a new gadget before you are eligible to actually cancel or end the contract (without penalties), it keeps you in the vicious cycle. They also have little tricks that they use to ‘steal’ your money such as data contracts with after-hours ‘free data’ added on (we should all know by now that free doesn’t exist).
If you take an open contract, you get the ‘free data’, if you choose a closed contract (one that cuts off once your data bundle is depleted), you forfeit the ‘free data’. They want to entice you into the open contract because if you just happen to deplete your data bundle, be prepared to be molested at out of bundle rates. And what a rife molestation it is! This brings me to my ‘out of funds’ issue. With the advent and popularity of smart phones without BIS, data is being consumed at an all-time new rate. How often have you heard somebody with a brand new smart phone complaining about the alarming rate at which his/her airtime disappeared? A little too often if you ask me. What happens is basically this, your ‘free’ data (which is never enough to satisfy your new hungry smart phone) gets depleted and then your Rand value is indiscriminately taken at out of bundle rates! Nobody tells you to turn off all but the basic features of the phone because we live in a third world country with alarming cellular tariffs.
Who even says that they are allowed to eat away your airtime like that, surely there should be a clear separation between data and airtime but conveniently, there isn’t. Every time you install a new app, you nervously hope that it won’t somehow start eating data, leaving you destitute and with an expensive phone and no airtime. Of course, if you really need it, you can always purchase more airtime from them (and don’t forget the data unless you want to find yourself back at square one again!). You load a data bundle but it still for some reason, it still likes your airtime for a bit, so you try to get those few Rand back out of them. It’s not worth the bother for the individual but when this is happening to many people, it’s definitely worth someone else’s while.Don’t be fooled for a second, believing that the Rand value and ‘free’ data is actually costing them anything near that, I would venture to guess that it costs much less.
It’s just another subtle trap used in fooling you to believe you are getting value for money.Lastly, there are upgrades, I dare you to try and upgrade at the 20th month to a bigger contract, you will receive the best and biggest smiles and will have signed the forms before you know what has happened. Try, by contrast, to go to a smaller contract, you will be hit with a prohibitively hefty penalty, calculated (I assume) against your remaining months on your old contract (months that are still carried into the new contract period by the way).
Also, try asking for the phone you really want on your measly contract, there will probably be a once-off pay-in fee but if you go a step higher, which is only R50 more per month, there will be no pay in. You do some crude calculations and over 24months the pay-in is more than the additional R50 a month, DON’T DO IT! If you have been paying any attention you’ll know that once you step up, coming back down becomes harder and you will find yourself paying that R50 for many more months than your crude calculations provisioned for.
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