Cable theft nails Telkom

Johannesburg, 15 Feb 2008

SA fixed-line operator Telkom lost at least R571 million in the 2007 financial year due to cable theft.

This was revealed by communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri in response to a parliamentary question put forward by IFP member of Parliament Hennie Bekker.

The response reveals the dual-listed telco spent R197.5 million on replacing copper cables and a further R5.5 million on fibre cables. The estimated revenue loss of this theft was put forward as R368.1 million.

In an explanatory note to the revenue loss figure, Telkom cautioned that the monitoring system it had implemented to calculate revenue losses had not to date been verified for accuracy. It added it was not in a position to calculate the revenue losses, caused by cable theft, from incoming calls.

Economy loss: R5 billion

Matsepe-Casaburri noted that Telkom had not undertaken any specific study on the impact of copper theft on the economy.

"However, Business Against Crime reported last year that the impact is at least ten-fold," she revealed.

Matsepe-Casaburri quoted the report as claiming that the theft of copper cables cost the South African economy an estimated R5 billion per year. This was according to figures from Eskom, Telkom and Spoornet, said Business Against Crime.

Lorinda Nel, a project manager at Business Against Crime, said: "The indirect cost of cable theft also includes the loss of income, the disruption of essential services, labour costs to repair the affected networks, as well as security measures."

Containing the scourge

This morning, Telkom's group executive of capability management, Theo Hess, said the company had made various interventions to "contain the copper cable theft".

His detailed response revealed the telecoms giant is "working closely" with the Non-Ferrous Theft Combating Committee (NFTCC), under the auspices of Business Against Crime, and the South African Police Services.

It is also engaging government and other relevant stakeholders with a view to formulating "sustainable solutions to the widespread service interruptions caused by cable theft".

Added Hess: "While recognising that legislation alone cannot combat the exponentially growing problem of cable theft, stiffer sentences would serve as a deterrent and could help in combating the problem. Telkom has, therefore, also formally proposed to the South African Law Commission that the crime of cable theft be defined as sabotage."

Operationally, Telkom has embarked on a national campaign to raise awareness of its crime-report line, said Hess. This is in recognition of the belief that the co-operation and support of communities is "vital" in stamping out cable theft.

Additionally, the company has adopted security measures, including alarming of the cables and use of armed patrols in those areas identified as high theft zones.

Hess said Telkom is also constantly evaluating the burying of cables that are currently overhead and deploying alternative technology through either fibre optic or wireless applications.

"In cases where it has become virtually impossible to eliminate service interruptions, wireless-based products, among others, are offered to customers as an alternative to the normal fixed wire line service. It is important to note that the above could be offered if the customer is situated in the footprint of the available wireless technology," Hess concluded.

Last month, Telkom admitted that SA's widespread power shortage could impact its revenue and operating expenditure.

While the company had been able to ensure its network was largely unaffected by the power outages; Telkom acting group executive for corporate communications Nabintu Petsana revealed that the side-effects of the load-shedding outside of its control are beginning to impact the company.

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