Telkom copper losses escalate

Johannesburg, 03 Mar 2008

Dual-listed telecommunications company Telkom has revealed it lost R863 million in the space of 10 months, due to an "alarming" surge in copper cable theft.

This theft is resulting in service interruptions, the company says.

Last month, the Department of Communications told Parliament the fixed-line operator had lost at least R571 million in the 2007 financial year due to cable theft.

Communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri's response to a parliamentary question put forward by IFP member of Parliament Hennie Bekker revealed the 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 R368.1 million.

Service deteriorates

Motlatsi Nzeku, Telkom's chief of operations, says the impact of copper cable theft is widespread and the biggest inhibitor to its capability to improve service levels.

He explains: "The increase in copper cable theft is creating an environment of a rapidly deteriorating service quality and is severely affecting the delivery of sustainable ICT services to customers. In many high-theft areas, cable is repeatedly stolen, sometimes within days after replacements or repairs."

The direct impact of cable theft includes disruption of essential services, costs of replacements or repairs of the affected infrastructure.

"We are observing a new trend in the deliberately determined cycle of theft. This is damaging businesses, depriving our customers of a basic service and, in some cases, adversely affecting their security. Of course, this is affecting our capacity to deliver services within acceptable time intervals," says Nzeku.

The company reiterated it has embarked on various interventions, including:

* Proactively alarming critical and sensitive cable routes and employing services of armed security firms.
* Deploying various wireless technologies that are alternatives to copper.
* Assessing vulnerable aerial cable routes and, where feasible, burying these.
* Working closely with the Non-Ferrous Theft Combating Committee, under the auspices of Business Against Crime and the South African Police Services, to jointly find ways of protecting the cable network.
* Implementing a national campaign to raise awareness of its toll-free crime-report line (0800124000) "as the co-operation and support of all communities is vital in stamping out cable theft".
* Engaging government and other relevant stakeholders with a view to formulating sustainable solutions to the widespread service interruptions caused by cable theft. One initiative is to re-classify copper either as a semi-precious or precious metal. Another initiative is to re-classify theft of copper cable providing essential service as sabotage.

"Since the start of our campaign to fit vulnerable cable routes with alarms, 157 convictions have been attained out of 1 043 arrests. However, copper cable theft is still spiralling out of control and more daring, adventurous and organised methods of theft are being used. It is important, however, to note that each incident of cable theft is unique and, therefore, needs unique alternative interventions," says Nzeku.

He adds that the deployment of alternative access technologies entails a process of assessment, funding, planning and deployment. These processes could have implications in terms of the speed with which it is able to redress affected customers with sustainable solutions.

Telkom says customers affected by copper theft qualify for pro rata rebates on their rental charges.

"In the near future, Telkom will be able to automatically pass credit against services that are affected by cable theft," says Nzeku.

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