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Consumers demand telecoms reform

By   |  January 19, 2007

Angry consumers published a full page advert in the Mail&Guardian on Friday calling for reform in the telecommunications sector in South Africa. The advert campaign was led by the Telecommunications Action Group (TAG).

The advert leads with the words: “The more of this you read, the more infuriated you’ll become” in large red type. It tells the story of how Telkom recorded R9.3-billion in profit last year while South Africans continued to pay some of the highest prices for telephony services in the world.

“Indeed something is very wrong when the only way the public can get through to Telkom is by running a full page newspaper advertisement,” reads the advert.

The advert is signed by over 200 pledgers who donated between R100 and R1000 to pay for the advert.

“We’re very pleased that so many South African consumers have contributed and supported this campaign, says Richard Frank, co-founder of TAG. “We’ve proved that consumers aren’t apathetic and that we can make our voices heard on a national scale.”

TAG says the advert is the first step in a wider effort to get consumers more involved in the fight for telecommunications reform. “It’s clear that we’ve gained very little as telecoms consumers by letting the minister of communications and the regulator, ICASA, fiddle for 10 years. It’s time for action,” says TAG co-founder Alastair Otter.

The advert, which is almost certainly the first of its kind in South Africa, was designed by Johannesburg ad agencies Da Vinci Edison Bell and Peppermint.

“We wanted readers to get the message in under a minute and leave them somewhat angry,” says creative director Patrick Robertson. “We could have filled two double-page spreads in 10-point type and still wouldn’t have fitted in all the accusations by both business and private individuals.”

“But that would have been too much to keep the reader’s attention. Instead, we crafted the argument so that it was short, punchy and unavoidable in its stance on the page.”

The campaign started in August 2006 when open source magazine Tectonic (www.tectonic.co.za) published an opinion piece, entitled “Telkom is killing our business”, which called for the advert. Later that month, the campaign was launched, and within a week TAG had reached its goal amount in pledges.

The concept is based on the Spread Firefox Campaign, which raised money to take out a double-page spread in the New York Times to celebrate the release of the open source internet browser, Mozilla Firefox 1.0.

“We believe that Telkom has been able to profit for too long as a monopoly and we call on government to immediately speed up the pace of telecommunications reform,” says Otter. “It is no longer enough to talk about the need for reform. Reform is needed now.”

“The high costs of bandwidth and telecommunications services are damaging the country,” says Frank. “Many businesses are either not able to operate profitably in South Africa or are simply not willing to invest in the country,” says Frank.

“We are glad that the licence for the second national operator has been awarded and that Neotel is starting operations,” says Otter, “but we are concerned that Neotel’s consumer services are still many months away from realisation. For consumers there is still no alternative but to wait for Neotel to become operational.”

FULL TEXT OF THE ADVERT
———————————————

THE MORE OF THIS YOU READ, THE MORE INFURIATED YOU’LL BECOME.

Last year, Telkom recorded a staggering R9.3 billion in pure profit. At your expense. Read on and find out why South Africans continue to pay some of the highest prices for telephony services in the world. Don’t expect the government to step in. They couldn’t give a hoot. They’ve got a 38% shareholding. This in itself is like a ticket to act with impunity. And anyway, it’s the Independent
Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which acts as the watchdog for the telecommunications industry. Their central role is to regulate telecommunications in the public interest. So how come they’re not barking noisily and waking up the country about the fact that South Africans pay five times as much for a local call now than they did in 1996? Or that internet access in South Africa is among the most expensive in the world (in fact, you’ll pay less for broadband in Morocco, Egypt, Botswana, and Mozambique)? Or that Telkom is only too happy to pay a R15 million fine for failing to deliver basic services where “it was not economical to do so” (Hold the phone, could that be your area they were talking about?) Worse still, Telkom has laid off over 35 000 staff over the past seven years, ensuring that its profits continue sky-rocketing while the rest of the country continues at a snail’s pace, waiting up to six inexcusable months or more, to get connected. To anything. And all this from a company that is supposedly “proudly South African”? Indeed, something is very wrong when the only way the public can get through to Telkom is by running a full page newspaper advertisement. Because clearly, Telkom isn’t answering the phone.

THIS ADVERT WAS PAID FOR BY INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE EXTREMELY CONCERNED ABOUT THE STATE OF SA’S TELECOMS INDUSTRY AND THE EFFECTS THAT GOVERNMENT MISMANAGEMENT OF THE SECTOR ARE HAVING ON OUR ECONOMY. PLEASE ADD YOUR VOICE TO OURS. YOU CAN START BY PULLING OUT THIS PAGE AND PASSING IT ON, OR POSTING IT ON YOUR OFFICE OR UNIVERSITY NOTICEBOARD. JOIN US AT ONLINE CONSUMER ACTIVIST GROUPS WWW.TAG.ORG.ZA AND WWW.MYADSL.CO.ZA AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

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