Those who try to make a killing with their bills, will die by the same

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
12 September, 2017
Editorial: 132
Fecha de publicación original: 8 septiembre, 1998

Save your pennies one by one and you’ll soon have a pocketful

The strike against Telefonica on the 3rd of September will become a landmark in the struggle between consumers and big corporations in the Information Society. The history of Telefonica doesn’t leave much room for triumphalism, besides the immediate results of the movement against the company’s rates initiated in Spain which particularly punish Internet’s users. But what has been born is a new mechanism for popular control which goes beyond this particular incident and the repercussions will be felt for a long time to come. It’s for this reason that its evolution and, above all, the geographical limits of its impact are so important. Whereas on other occasions consumers have been limited to confronting big corporations within their cities or, at most, within their own countries, globalisation via telecommunications places the battleground in the field which they themselves have been actively developing –from a world fragmented by barriers of all kinds to a landscape which is becoming more and more easy to traverse. Telefonica isn’t just the Spanish telecommunications company, it also operates in many Latin American countries. And, in principle, there is no reason why the protest movement shouldn’t spread to that continent as well. These communities not only share a language, but their complaints as well.

Telefonica has exercised its monopoly dictatorship fundamentally through its rates. And, also, of course, by means of services which have remained deaf to the protests of consumers when it came to inexplicable hiccups in their bills. The way most individuals and companies feel when they receive their bills is similar to the way almost everybody from St Augustine onwards has felt on contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity – the most absolute perplexity when faced with the indecipherable. In fact, Telefonica bills make up one of that complex trinity, along with water and electricity bills as well as airline company tariffs. There is simply no way of knowing why or how things have been charged. And that’s without taking seasonal or out-of-season variations into account.

The worrying factor in this particular case is that telecommunications form the backbone of the Information Society. While companies like Telefonica insist on treating their service as just one of many others which every citizen should aspire to, data transmission networks are not just simply a function of modern society but instead act as the midwife of the emergent information and knowledge industry. Any decision taken by telecommunications corporations related to tariffs have direct repercussions on the viability of this new sector and consequently on the economy and society concerned. Education, employment, social and political relations, welfare etc. depend more and more on the outcome of this sector.

Globalisation opens up the doors so that the players, the telecommunications companies, businesses in general and users in particular, meet face to face all over the world. On very few occasions have protests of such a local nature as that of 3 September in Spain had such widespread repercussions almost exclusively because of the Net. As the scientist Rupert Sheldrake would say, it has produced a kind of morphic resonance throughout the whole species. Those who did not participate directly in the protest have gained experience in how to do so almost as fast as the protesters themselves. This is a new characteristic of cyberspace in which the relationship between users and big corporations will play a very important role, not only as far as the quality and variety of services are concerned, but also the content and orientation of bills. So, if what got us into action now were the arbitrary increases dictated by Telefonica and the Ministerio de Fomento, it all points to the fact that similar action could open up debate on the opportunity or the nature of corporate investments, their business policies or the drastically neo-liberal criteria on which they base their expansion in less developed countries all over the world. In the era of the Net, we could say that those who try to make a killing with their bills will die by the same. Time will tell.

Translation: Bridget King.