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Ad campaign to take on Telkom

The Telecoms Action Group launched its national consumer advocacy campaign this week, calling on South African businesses and private individuals to donate money to take out a full page advert in a national newspaper protesting the lack of alternatives in the SA telecommunications sector.

"We want to send a clear message to the South African government that Telkom's high prices and poor service levels, together with a general lack of momentum in opening up the telecoms sector to competition, are hurting South African businesses and households," says Richard Frank, an IT journalist who is leading the campaign.

"A full page advert, paid for by hundreds of South African businesses and individuals, should do this."

South African technology news website Tectonic is running the campaign. For months, website editor Alastair Otter has updated the website via cellphone because Telkom has still not completed the installation of an ADSL line at his new office.

"The campaign comes out of the utter frustration and disillusionment that we feel over the telecoms sector in South Africa," says Otter. "We're being let down by policymakers in this country who have failed to grasp how important a competitive environment is in the global economy."

Inspired by SpreadFirefox

The campaign is inspired by SpreadFirefox Campaign, which took out a double-page spread in the New York Times on 16 December 16 to celebrate the launch of the open source Mozilla Firefox browser. The Firefox advert listed thousands of donors' names, who contributed U$30 or more to ensure the advert was published.

The South African campaign will also publish the names of contributors, which Frank says will create a larger impact. "It's one thing for a big organisation or association to take out an advert; it's another for literally hundreds of people at a grassroots level to put their names to an advert saying: 'enough is enough'," he says.

Frank has received dozens of emails from irate Telkom users who have pledged their support. "The spectrum has been huge. We've had messages of support from CEOs, managers, small business owners, academics, lawyers, IT specialists, and others from all walks of life," says Frank. "It's clear that this situation affects nearly every consumer in South Africa."

Pledge database

The advert is planned to be run on 20 October 2006. "We've set up a pledge database on Tectonic where consumers can pledge their support and the amount they are prepared to contribute," says Otter. "Once we've received enough pledges to take out the advert, we'll open a bank account into which donations can be placed."

Although the advert is only scheduled to run once, Frank says the gesture could mobilise South African consumers to sustained action on the issue.

"The advert will contain a bold statement that expresses how government, ICASA, and Telkom, are killing our businesses, affecting our lives and hurting South Africa," he says. "It will also inform readers on how they can get actively involved in the fight for telecoms reform."

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