Before you move you’d better check with Vumatel

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If you’re moving home, the last thing on your mind may be that you should put in a call to Vumatel before you do. Or at least, put in a call to your ISP, since Vumatel’s call centres all closed down at the beginning of this year.

It might sound odd suggesting this — after all, it’s not like either your ISP or Vumatel are going to help you pack and unpack your life from cardboard-box-hell when the move happens, but stay with me and hear some tales of woe.

Vumatel line blocked

I recently moved from a flat to a house (yay me, right?) and once the boxes were stacked, the removal men were gone and the first cups of tea had been imbibed I set about connecting my house to Vumatel’s fibre optic network. I’d put in a relocation application for my line ahead of the move (admittedly quite late) but I phoned up my ISP to ask how long it would take to have me up and running.

My ISP told me they’d put in a request to Vumatel, but unfortunately couldn’t connect me, because there was another ISP sitting on the line.

This is where things took a turn for the tricky. And by tricky, I mean hair-rippingly frustrating.

You see, my new house’s former occupant left in March and didn’t cancel their ISP. This presumably means their account is in arrears, but that wasn’t really my concern. My concern is that until they cancelled their ISP at my new address, their ISP was effectively blocking my ISP’s attempts to connect me. To make matters worse, the rental agency informed me that not only was the former occupant a foreign national, he happened to be a diplomat to boot. That is, he’s pretty much impossible to get a hold of.

What followed was a week’s worth of sitting on the sidelines hearing reports of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object. I phoned my ISP several times a day during this time only to be greeted with the same information — there was another ISP on the line and my connection couldn’t be activated until it had been removed.

My ISP escalated and then re-escalated my query. Vumatel sent back the same message over and over again. My ISP — bless ’em — did their best, but there’s only so much they can do when they’re getting the same response all the time. In the meantime, I sat in the middle of the pair of them cogitating on that old definition of insanity.

More tales of woe

I have to point out at this stage, I’m luckier than most. I’m a journalist with a platform to write articles like this if things go wrong in my tech space. I also have (as do my colleagues) a contact book longer than my arm, so it wasn’t long before I was able to get in touch with Vumatel myself directly and act as a sort of middle man between them and my ISP. After seven days with no connection, my WiFi is up and running.

Others aren’t so lucky.

I’ve reached out on social media to see if I was alone in my trials and tribulations. Turns out this sort of thing happens more often than not.

Take the case of one Ms Jacki Bousfield. She migrated her line last month on the 10th of June knowing that she was moving out July 1st. Upon moving on 28th June, she phoned her ISP to confirm that her line was active. This was confirmed by an Afrihost tech support employee.

By Wednesday there was no connection. Afrihost said to wait until the next day for the new month to start. On Thursday Afrihost tried a manual connection. Ms Bousfield was not made aware of what the actual issue was, but was told to turn the ONT and the router off and leave it off overnight.

On Friday an Afrihost support employee said Ms Bousfield needed to send her lease agreement to the Fibre support team as proof of address (this document was sent immediately). On Saturday, Afrihost let Ms Bousfield know that another ISP was on her line. She contacted the previous tenant who sent her proof that the ISP line (with Vox) was cancelled at the beginning of June, which she duly forwarded to Vumatel for a ‘Cancelation Reference’ number.

Ms Bousfield was sent from pillar to post throughout the process and finally managed to get an email from Vox saying they’d released the line. She immediately called Afrihost who said she should have internet the following day.

“Please God let this be over,” Ms Bousfield says. “It’s cost me close to R1,000 for data for the three working days and over R200 in airtime while I’ve been on hold.”

“I’m not impressed that I, as the customer, was expected to run around and do the leg work for this.”

Another person who approached me — we’ll call her Sandra as she wishes to remain anonymous — experienced a worse situation. She bought a house and the exchange with the previous owners was acrimonious. She tried to connect her line to her new property and had the same problem myself and Ms Bousfield had — except, in this case, it emerged that the people she’d bought her house from had carried on paying the ISP they’d been using on what was now her property.

In other words, out of spite, they were squatting on her line. The ISP for its part didn’t seem to care — and why would they? After all, they were being paid every month. In the end, it was only Sandra’s threat of legal action that removed her property’s previous owners from the line. That whole process took three months.

Connectivity is vital

There are more horror stories, but I don’t have space here. The upshot of the situation, however, is that anyone moving to new premises who doesn’t check whether their line is open may face weeks or months without an internet connection.
This would be bad enough several years ago, but since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is something of a vital factor in this instance. Those who can work from home have been encouraged to do so. Those who can’t risk infection when they head out of their houses to an office or workspace.
An internet connection, where possible, is vital. It shouldn’t involve the runarounds mentioned above and it certainly shouldn’t take as long as it does.
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I've been writing about tech and games for around 20 years. Been playing games since I was tall enough to reach the controls on an arcade machine. Old enough to remember when games weren't something people yelled at each other about.

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