South Africa’s high-speed broadband Internet sector is a model of consumer choice, with consumers able to choose from a variety of ISPs providing Internet access and other services over the open-access fibre networks being rolled out across South Africa.
However, along with the competition that comes with a maturing market, comes added complexity.
“When it comes to the provision of FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Home) infrastructure and services, the consumer needs to know who to contact when things go awry to get the best out of lightning-fast, fibre-based broadband,” says Graham Beneke, ISPA chair.
Not getting caught up in a succession of call centres irrelevant to a particular query means understanding that the local fibre industry is comprised of one layer operated by network operators and another layer operated by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
This differentiation effectively supports current macroeconomic policy aimed at driving down Internet access costs through fewer capital-intensive networks and more competition-boosting ISPs.
The downside of this two-layer FTTH model is that ISPs do not always have the power to fix problems consumers experience in receiving services because these may arise at the network level and be within the control of the network operator.
Internet Service Providers
The ISP is usually the consumer-facing entity and will address queries regarding fibre access packages and any other value-added services offered on top of Internet access.
When things go wrong, end-users will typically only ever deal with their ISP. This relationship begins when consumers see fibre being trenched in their neighbourhood. It is up to the consumer to do their research and select one of South Africa’s many competing ISPs to order high-speed Internet delivered via fibre optic cable.
The ISP, in turn, will contact the fibre network installer to provision and manage a fibre network connection to the customer. An end-user generally has no relationship with the network operator and relies on their ISP (with which they do have a contract) to take up network-related problems with the operator on their behalf.
These problems could include the network operator changing its coverage area, fibre breaks and inferior fibre installations: your ISP cannot fix these issues because they are entirely within the control of the network operator.
“For a complete FTTH offering, ISPs depend on network operators and even entities such as body corporates. While ISPs will always act in the best interests of their customers, patience and understanding are sometimes required while a service issue is escalated to the appropriate party,” adds Beneke.