IT'S in our nature to take things for granted. At my house, broadband internet is a given. I have cancelled my DStv subscription and chosen instead to spend the money on bandwidth.
Our communications, entertainment and my business all rely on a single Telkom ADSL line that has served us very well until it went down in a thunderstorm over a week ago – making me wonder how anyone survives without one.
I do not want to turn this into a Telkom-bashing session; suffice it to say that getting my ADSL line repaired has been taxing. The first technician who came out claimed to have fixed it and marked the issue as resolved on Telkom's systems, when he knew full well that my line was still not working.
Now, about nine days later, I finally have someone competent on the job who tells me it should be working within hours. Hope springs eternal. In general, however, Telkom [JSE:TKG]
staff have been helpful and knowledgeable, but slow in getting around to me.
In the absence of ADSL I have had to make do with 3G. The only operator with decent coverage at my Johannesburg home is Vodacom Group [JSE:VPD]. The performance of Vodacom's HSUPA network is awesome. It is fast and reliable, easily competing with my ADSL line in everything but the most important factor – cost.
I make use of an uncapped ADSL service from Afrihost that has meant many months of carefree internet usage. I download game content, rent videos on the internet, buy books, movies for the kids and other content without blinking an eye. Having to worry about how much I was downloading again was a return to the dark ages.
When MWEB first introduced uncapped ADSL connectivity last year it changed everything, spurring competitors into doing the same and transforming the way many South Africans think about online content.
For all of MWEB's faults, it saved us from continuous paranoia about what we're doing online and the worries of having to buy more bandwidth every month.
Once you have experienced uncapped internet you can't go back to anything else. It's a glorious reality that a fortunate few South Africans who live in areas covered by Telkom's ADSL network and can afford the better, albeit still exorbitant, costs of connecting this way.
To put a value to it, renting a movie from Apple's iTunes service – which requires lying about where you live – involves paying about $5 and then downloading a file of about 4GB.
On my uncapped ADSL, the final cost of this was $5 and the 4GB was a small part of my monthly bandwidth consumed on a R500 package from Afrihost.
On Vodacom, had I done the same thing, I would have used almost R1 000 just on that one download with a MyGig 5 package. In short, I would not even have considered it.
The type of 3G connection I use from Vodacom is not supposed to be a primary connection for homes and offices. These connections are priced as secondary ones, and the fact that many South Africans have to rely on them solely is an indictment on our authorities.
Limited internet connections mean limited business. It means that people will think twice before emailing big pictures for a project, or spending hours on an online video conference. It will incline them to limit what their employees are able to do online.
It creates a subconscious block to creating or enjoying online content. It holds us back in educational and economical terms.
As an inconvenience, having to deal with this all over again was like having the plumbing removed from my house. Uncapped internet is regarded as a utility by the people who have it – and should be held in the same regard by government and internet service providers.
It is heartening to see the good work being done by telecommunications providers in South Africa in the wake of 2008's court case between Altech and the department of communications, which essentially liberalised the market and made progress possible for the first time.
But we're still so far behind. This should have started happening in 1994. And until a majority of South Africans have access to uncapped connectivity, the status quo just simply won't be good enough.