On Dec. 16 at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, amid anti-globalization forums and protests left and right, convenors of TXTPower successfully mounted a meeting of mobile activists.
Nineteen souls gathered for the meeting, coming from Africa, North America and Asia. The meeting focused more on sharing the telecommunications situation on our respective countries and the challenges facing the individuals and movements using mobile technology for social activism.
Those coming from South countries bewailed the stranglehold of multinational monopolies, high prices of handsets and services, and government actions that seek to restrain free and unhampered use of cellular phones.
In Kenya, a basic handset costs US$400 — so much for the so-called cheap handset program of the worldwide GSM Association that claims to be gunning for a less than US$100 handsets for Third World markets. The Kenyans likewise had to contend with limited cellular service coverage. Many would actually have to go up a hill to get a signal and thereby make or receive a call or a text message.
Indonesians meanwhile now have to face mandatory registration of SIM cards. The Indonesian participant in the meeting said that the new policy may be aimed to identifying the sources of anti-government messages and to track down the activists themselves.
The coordinator of TXTPower-Hong Kong (yes, we do have a chapter there!) shared that most Filipino migrant workers in the former British colony maintain two mobile phones. One would have a Philippine SIM card which would enable their loved ones and friends in the Philippines to send them text messages for just P1.00 a pop. The other phone would have a SIM card from any of the Hong Kong cellular service providers which they use among themselves and for cheap local and international calls.
This was the same tactic some TXTPower convenors and friends from the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) used as soon as we arrived in Hong Kong. We had our Philippine SIM cards on roaming and obtained either Sunday or CSL SIM cards.
The American participant expressed surprise about the sophisticated use of mobile telephony for activist purposes. He said that he will talk to his friends in California on how to integrate mobile phones and texting as media for organizing and mobilization. Meanwhile, a participant from Indymedia-Vancouver but has since been based in Sydney remarked that the reason why mobile phones may not be often used for activist ends in big countries could be the fact that computers, landlines and internet are widely available in those places and have been the standard media for activists.
We expected to see two friends from Bangladesh who come from a group that most resembles TXTPower but the whole Bangladeshi contingent went marching towards the WTO convention center at about the same time the meeting started. Good thing that they left their contact details with us.
The information we gathered and shared among ourselves during the meeting confirmed yet again the two-tiered struggle of activists vis-a-vis mobile telephony. First, the fight for consumer rights and welfare vis-a-vis pricing and monopolies; and second, the struggle to freely use mobile phones without state intrusions through attacks on privacy and on free speech especially in under the backdrop of the US-led war of terrorism.
The meeting’s outcome was positive. There’s a unity to maintain and expand contacts, create a mailing list and help one another prepare for a MobileActive Afro-Asia meeting in Manila sometime next year.
(On behalf of TXTPower convenors, we wish to thank the following: Agham [Science], the Computer Professionals Union and the Kabataan [Youth] Party List; the Kalikasan [Environment] People’s Network for the Environment and the Center for Environmental Concerns; Bayan and the ILPS; MobileActive and Aspiration Tech; and all those who helped make the meeting possible.)