This week my cat placed himself in the proverbial dog box, after he decided to do a bit of tinkering with my Vumatel box. The little sod not only managed to remove the casing of said device, he managed to sever the wire that connects my internal box to the outside infrastructure.
In short, my cat broke my internet connection. Own a cat, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.
After an hour during which my wife talked me down from turning the feline component of our family into slippers –- “he’s just a cat!” -– I settled in for an afternoon of being disconnected. I’m luckier than most. This episode is the first time my fibre connection had been physically disconnected from within my house. I hadn’t had to call my ISP or Vumatel in nearly two years. So, this week was something of a learning experience.
Here’s what I learned.
Vumatel doesn’t want to talk to you
Vumatel doesn’t have any call centres anymore. Google the company’s name and dial the number that comes up under customer service and you’re treated to a recording that informs you that any complaint about something that has gone wrong with your fibre infrastructure should be directed to your ISP.
How is my ISP going to fix something that’s wrong with my fibre connection? Short answer: it isn’t. It’ll raise a ticket with Vumatel who – according to the helpful folks from Cool Ideas (the ISP I use) – may take anywhere between 24 to 72 hours to resolve my problem. If they don’t resolve it in that timeframe, I should call Cool Ideas and let them know.
Once again: Er… what?
Lord knows how many houses, complexes and properties Vumatel provides internet infrastructure to. You’re looking at hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of South Africans who rely on Vumatel’s infrastructure not just for an internet hardline, but in today’s COVID-19 pandemic-ridden world, a vital component that affects their ability to work from home.
And Vumatel can’t be bothered to pick up the phone? Really?
Passing the buck
In a way, you could say that Vumatel’s call centre policy – or lack thereof – is a savvy business move. In effect they’ve converted every ISP riding on their infrastructure into call centres at their convenience. If you have a problem, phone your ISP. Vumatel then may get around to solving your query within a 72-hour window. If not, call your ISP again.
This is a business practice that should worry consumers. The problem we all have is that Vumatel –- much like Telkom back in the day –- is the only game in town for a lot of clients and like the SA telco parastatal’s attitude before the advent of fibre, is message to customers seems to be: ‘Like it or lump it. You don’t have a choice’.
In all fairness…
Now, to be fair to Vumatel, my query was sorted out within 48 hours. But like I said earlier, I’m luckier than most. Punch the word Vumatel into a search string on Twitter and you’re in for a proverbial eyeful. The feed is a litany of clients complaining about everything from lousy connectivity to unresolved complaints to customers asking how they can transfer their infrastructure to another provider.
Once again, to give Vumatel its due, it moves pretty fast to address a lot of these issues, but the underlying problem still remains: this infrastructure provider has taken one step away from its consumer base. This is a worrying factor.
In a world where a global pandemic is forcing most South Africans to work from home, a company that has its hands on the levers of connectivity needs to be held to account.
It at least needs to pick up the phone.