TXTPower nears 5th birthday

In two months, TXTPower will turn five years old. Looking back and forward, there are more battles to fight and win.

TXTPower started as a consumer advocacy group in 2001 when it stood up against the then-planned reduction of free text allocations. With the support of texters nationwide, TXTPower spread a texters’ manifesto, campaigned for a one-day boycott, demanded congressional action and took on the legal and public relations chiefs of the telcos.

The campaign resulted in what has become arguably as the first victorious consumer initiative of the millenium. Smart and Globe were forced to delay the plan’s implementation. Free text allocations were cut only months later and on two installments.

The telcos’ undisputed superprofiteering, and the Arroyo government’s insatiable greed for new taxes and for fake anti-terrorist measures both kept TXTPower on its toes.

In no less than five instances, the Arroyo government attempted to impose a tax on text messaging, hoping to cash in on the texting craze. The attempted extortion was defeated five times, the last even landing on the Inquirer frontpage.

That last anti-text tax campaign pitted texters against the most-promising Speaker of the House, Jose de Venecia. We obtained and passed on his mobile number, asking in a text message to send him a clear message against the text tax. The next day, the Inquirer put De Venecia’s response to the consumer action: No more text tax.

The Arroyo government, through its allies in Congress, also tried to require all prepaid subscribers to register their SIM cards with the NTC and, purportedly, also with the PNP, as an anti-terrorist measure. As to how they arrived at this insipid proposal, nobody knows.

TXTPower put its foot down and demanded that the Arroyo keep off its citizens’ cellphones. We said privacy is very important, especially in the face of the growing paranoia of the government, and its readiness to stifle dissent. As to curbing terrorism, the proposal to require SIM registration is as ineffective and wrong as imposing a national ID.

The telcos meanwhile kept conniving and conspiring for the longest time in the utterly superprofiteering acts of offering similar rates and prices of services. We demanded lower rate and prices, and asked government to monitor network quality.

We demanded that telcos offer “unlimited” call and texting plans to subscribers.

Newcomer Sun took on our challenge, with its 24/7 offerings. Smart and Globe were forced to follow suit. Hopefully, this trend of “bulk pricing”, a standard fare for US mobile subscribers, would be able to benefit more subscribers.

Smart, Globe and Sun are up to now evading the issue of spam text. The NTC seeks to impose new regulations, but the three telcos continue to abuse their access to subscriber numbers. These telcos and their content providers should stop immediately from stealing prepaid/postpaid credits and for violating consumers’ privacy.

Last year, TXTPower marked its fourth year in its biggest campaign yet — the Hello Garci ringtone campaign, which became a snash hit despite threats from the justice department. Ringtones and mobile phones have become political tools as TXTPower joined the growing anti-Arroyo movement.

In two foreign trips last year, TXTPower convenors proudly shared our experience in mobile activism, be it for consumer rights or for overtly political purposes.

At the MobileActive meeting in Toronto, TXTPower swapped notes with other mobile activists, shared the Philippine experience and lessons, listened to others’s own, and championed the idea that people should drive technology and not the other way around.

For indeed, five years of TXTPower have taught us that mobile technology are the newest weapons for people’s movements for social change. Mobile phones, per se, may not effect reforms. But if socially-conscious people use them creatively and consistently, the mobile phones become tools for organizing and mobilizing many others.

Five years since TXTPower was born, we should press on and win more battles..