Early this morning, I switch the laptop on.
I'm in a great mood. I'm brimming with ideas and inspiration and enthusiasm and I'm ready to plunge into work.
I'm not even too bothered by my dinosaur laptop's usual ten minute start up time. Nothing can get me down today! “Besides,” I think to myself. “this ancient laptop is teaching me patience and therefore making me oh-so-virtuous!”
If only I had known what was in store and how quickly I was about to tumble from my high horse!
I click on the little red Vodafone Mobile Connect (VMC) icon. Elephant cows gestate while I wait for it to open. Finally, it pops up. I wait for my usual, dismal one bar (two bars at best) signal. Nothing appears! Acquiring, it says, where it is supposed to say Vodacom.
I take a deep breath, reminding myself that it's okay, that I still have an option. I click on Tools and change my Mobile Profile to the slower-than-dial-up-I-swear GPRS. At least I'm getting three bars now! But still... no sign of Vodacom! It alternates between Acquiring and the blatantly untrue Not Registered to a Network.
Starting to panic a bit now, I remove the HSDPA data card. I reinsert it. Click on the icon again. The VMC box pops open. At last! Vodacom appears as my network. The GPRS signal is still three bars strong. I quickly click on connect, before it has a chance to change its mind again. Connecting, it says. I sigh with relief. Prematurely, it turns out, because the next minute I hear that heart-stopping, disheartening, infuriating, frustrating “Ping” sound as it throws up the error message box:
“While attempting to connect, an error with the number 678 occurred.
If there is no handshake, the number is probably incorrect.
If there is a handshake, check your connection and network settings. If those settings are correct, it is probably a handshake error. Make sure that the correct device is selected and set up.
Try upgrading the firmware on your device.
Click on OK to acknowledge that you've read and understood this lame excuse we regularly dish up for you.”
Now I'm yelling: “Come ON!” The virtue I so smugly felt earlier has evaporated faster than a dew drop. In its place, I feel the frustration and fury well up. Also a tear drop or two.
I remove the HSDPA card again. Restart my laptop. All of this has now about taken about half an hour. That is 30 minutes of my life that I can never, ever, ever get back again.
40 minutes later (slow laptop, remember?), I'm back. Still no luck with trying to connect with GPRS. Change my profile back to 3G. Nothing. Try 3G Preferred. It immediately latches onto the 3 bar GPRS signal. But still, no network.
Exasperated, I dial the Vodacom help desk. It can't be though, I think to myself. Because I called them just yesterday! So surely it can't be a network issue AGAIN?
The recorded male voice answers, welcoming me to Vodacom's Dedicated (hahahahaha! That never fails to make me snigger) Data Call Centre. Is it my imagination or is the poor bugger sounding tired today?
No, I'm probably just projecting my own depleted energy onto him.
After telling me to press one if I want more information about Vodacom's listing on the JSE (he also neglects to mention that they are only listed on the JSE in the first place thanks to padding their pockets with billions of our hard-earned rands), he tells me to hold for further options.
Then, after another Elephant cow gestates, I hear this.
“Please be advised that we are currently experiencing connectivity problems via GPRS, 3G and HSDPA...”
Ja, no kidding, I think. But on the other hand I am rather disbelieving. Disbelieving that this is what we pay such exorbitant fees for every month. (I pay almost R400 for two measly gigs... which isn't even enough data to see me through the whole month anymore, since Web sites are becoming increasingly bandwidth intensive.) I am literally crying now. I have been at it since 8 this morning. It is now almost NOON. I wonder at all the revenue lost because of this happening on a week day. Or am I the only sucker still using Vodacom? (Actually, I have now decided that they truly live up to their VodaCON nickname.)
I rage at Vodacon. I rage at our former, late minister of Communications, who totally lived up to her nickname, Poison Ivy, too. (I know she is dead, and that one ought to have respect for the deceased and all, but let's not deceive ourselves. The act of dying does not automatically elevate a person to sainthood status.) To be fair, I never met her in person. For all I know she was entirely docile in her personal life. (Highly doubt it, though.) But we can't deny that she was lousy at her job, and that she totally enabled the ongoing Telkom monopoly by actively, ruthlessly discouraging any possible hope of competition. Which is why we are still stuck with such limited choices. (All our so-called service providers are equally inept, overpriced and helpless. Which is why most South Africans seem to have the attitude of rather sticking with the devil they know.) And which is why the likes of Vodacon can therefore freely screw us like this.
I rage at former President Mbeki for keeping Poison Ivy in that portfolio for so long, ensuring that the digital divide between us and the rest of the world have become so gapingly wide that it will probably take years... if not entire decades... for us to catch up. I rage at Zuma for appointing a guy with NO experience in telecommunications as Poison's successor.
I can't help but to think that the ANC government's stubborn refusal to take action and make the Communications department a priority is another, insidious form of Apartheid. Why are they so scared to give all South Africans affordable and unlimited access to the Internet? Is it because it will give everyone access to knowledge? Are they afraid that the masses, once given access to all that knowledge, will discover that they have been keeping a useless entity in power all these years? That the people will start to demand more positive action from the government who is supposed to be working for them?
In order not to feel so entirely helpless, I try to connect every five minutes. I again call the help line, only to STILL receive that message. Finally, at 12:10, I decide to try my luck and make an attempt to speak to an operator. After a miraculously mere 15 minutes (yes, trust me, that is a short time compared to how long I usually have to hold on) I get through to an actual human! I know that it is not his fault, so I remain calm. I even muster up some friendliness. I ask him politely if he has any idea about when the issue will be resolved. My mom was so right. It always pays to be friendly. You always attract more flies with honey. Because he is friendly back and helpful and sincere. Tells me that I have an option. That I should provide him with my SIM card number so that he can personally log the complaint for me. That way they can attend to the problem faster in my area.
I thank him and hang up. Make myself a cup of coffee. And begin to write this entire saga offline.
Providing Vodacom with my SIM card number turns out to not be that valuable after all, because it is now 4PM. The work day is almost entirely gone. About 30 minutes ago, I managed to get online long enough to send off the story which I had written LAST NIGHT ALREADY! I had time to at least send a brief second message explaining about the network problems before I was booted off again. (Oh, by the way, a continuously dropped connection? Is simply a part of my everyday life as a Vodacom customer.) Never even had a chance to source and send a photograph.
I honestly can't stand this anymore!
P.S. If I EVER manage to get back online again? I will immediately copy and paste this and post it to MyDL. Let's see how long it takes. (9:30PM. Eventually Vodacom's number didn't even ring anymore!)
P.P.S. Funny. During their meeting with ICASA the other day – in order to get to the bottom of why there have been so many dropped calls, undelivered SMSes and other service issues lately – Vodacom still so piously denied having any network problems. Wonder how they would define this wasted business day then?!?