Editor’s Memo

A fixed faultline

Iden Wetherell

I WONDER how many readers feel the way I do about the poor standard of service delivery we are currently getting from a number of prominent companies

in Zimbabwe.

This week our Internet service provider M-Web has been having difficulty with communications to addresses outside Zimbabwe. They are dependent on a Tel-One link which was not operational on Tuesday and Wednesday because it developed a fault.

As a result most of the country’s international e-mail communications came to a standstill. The consequences for businesses such as ours can be imagined.

Part of the problem is that Tel-One, formerly part of the now-disbanded PTC of late unlamented memory but now functioning as an independent state-owned company, has a monopoly of fixed-line communications in and out of the country. That includes e-mail lines to South Africa from where e-mails are on-routed to further destinations.

Last week work on the South African link led to delays in the service to South African addresses. I found some e-mails taking over 48 hours to get there.

We got a message on Monday saying that problem had been cleared up. Then on Tuesday evening the latest snarl-up occurred. This time it was the so-called international link between M-Web and Tel-One which transmits data from the M-Web server to the Tel-One satellite link.

We have yet to discover whose problem this was – apart of course from several thousand subscribers who were immobilised.

I recently had e-mail installed at home. It was far from a seamless exercise lasting several weeks due in part to confusion over the sort of modem needed. When I tried to contact M-Web’s misnamed Customer Care Centre over the difficulties I was experiencing with M-Web’s sub-contractor, I had to hold on for 30 minutes (their estimate, not mine) while the person I needed to speak to claimed she was on another call. I suspect she was hiding.

Finally a manager agreed to assist me and after that things were sorted out.

At the end of this ordeal, the first e-mail message I got was from M-Web saying they had put their charges up!

On Wednesday their Customer Care lines were simply not functioning because, I presume, they were having difficulty fielding complaints about the break-down in the e-mail service.

Everybody I talk to says the same thing: M-Web’s Customer Care department takes too long to answer their phones as they entertain you with their musical recordings. Getting a technician to explain what is wrong is a mission.

And getting somebody to call you back is impossible. I know that from my own experience. Only when I get through to a manager do things happen.

M-Web needs to polish up its act. Zimbabweans today depend on e-mail for much of their daily tasks at work. And many need it to keep in touch with family and friends. It is literally a lifeline.

M-Web is the largest ISP operating in this country. It is a division of a much larger company in South Africa. It needs to train its staff to deal with the occasional crisis, extend its Customer Care Services department, and above all get back to customers who want answers to their problems.

Wednesday was a test case and M-Web failed it. While I received a message on my home computer telling me of their difficulties with Tel-One, I heard nothing from them where it really matters – at my work place.

Then there is the other structural faultline the size of the San Andreas. Despite the reported award of a licence to TeleAccess, Tel-One still has a monopoly of the lines it had difficulty fixing this week, thus making all ISPs its hostage.

In an era of rapid communications and information exchange the shortcomings of an old-style state monopoly were dramatically evident to all!