By Hanno Labuschagne for MyBroadband
Vodacom customers in the Free State farming town of Frankfort were left without cellular connectivity for several days after the operator’s tower in the area was turned off.
A resident of the neighbouring town of Reitz contacted MyBroadband claiming that agriculture company VKB (Vrystaatse Koöperasie Beperk) switched the tower off on Monday 30 November because Vodacom had failed to pay for its electricity usage for over two years.
“The tower was on one of VKB grain silos and they warned Vodacom about it,” the resident said.
He stated that the community of Frankfort was furious about the situation.
MTN previously told MyBroadband that operators would typically enter into a ground rental lease agreement with a private property owner – like VKB – in the event that a network coverage or capacity gap is identified.
The rental fee would be related to space usage and electricity consumption, and is market-related and aligned to a willing landlord-tenant lease agreement.
Vodacom confirmed to MyBroadband that the tower was switched off due to a dispute with the landlord, although it did not elaborate on the nature of the issue.
The matter had since been resolved and the site was back online, with connectivity restored in the area as of the morning of Wednesday 2 December.
“We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused,” Vodacom said.
VKB told MyBroadband that the dispute had been resolved in an amicable manner.
“We don’t deem it necessary to further labour the incident in the public domain,” the company said.
This is not the first known instance of a landlord who switched off a mobile tower after a payment dispute.
A MyBroadband reader has previously twice switched off the Telkom cellphone tower on his property after the mobile network repeatedly failed to pay him for the electricity to run the infrastructure.
Telkom signed a 10-year lease with the owner of a commercial building in Glenhazel, Johannesburg, to erect a cellphone base station on the building, providing mobile coverage to Telkom customers in the surrounding area.
According to the owner, the agreement stated that Telkom would pay a monthly rental amount for its cellphone tower, as well as reimburse the owner for the electricity required to run the hardware.
The landlord also had a Cell C tower on his property, for which he said he is always compensated on time according to the terms of that lease agreement, which includes payment for the correct electricity consumption.