A Tale of Two Boycotts
By Eric Lin, Fri Jul 16 23:15:00 GMT 2004

July 15 organizers asked Lebanese subscribers to go without making calls for the whole day. Those behind an Italian boycott couldn't even get users to hang up for 2 hours.

Lebanese subscribers were asked by consumer and professional organizations to refrain from using their mobile phones all day on July 15. The boycott was organized to protest unusually high rates and fees, as well as per minute (as opposed to per second) charges. By the end of the day, over half of those surveyed had turned their phones off. There were no immediate results, however a government representative did say it would study how many customers actually responded to the boycott.

Things in Italy didn't go nearly as well for boycott organizers. Italians are upset by rising call charges and text message costs, but not angry enough to turn off their mobiles from Noon until 2 PM on July 15. Only 20% of those surveyed had gone without using their phone. One gentleman interviewed in the report even answered his phone immediately after he was personally informed about the boycott and had responded by telling the reporter he never answers his phone then since that's his lunch time.

In both countries, subscribers are reported be thoroughly addicted to their cellphones, so no cultural difference seems to account for the responses. The Lebanese are paying twice as much in mobile charges as their neighbors, but the Italians only pay a few cents more per minute about about 50% more per text message. Maybe Italians don't feel that's enough of a difference to be upset about and explains their lack of participation.

Another factor might be penetration and how that effects subscribers' relationship to their phones. While they don't have more mobile phones than people like Sweden, Italy has nearly 100% mobile penetration with 54 million subscribers out of 57 million people. A country where nearly every person has a mobile phone is much more likely to have a population accustomed to relying on that phone as opposed to landlines or other modes of communication. Lebanon has less than 20% penetration -- 850,000 subs in a population of 4.5 million, and according to the article, many mobile users there have more than one handset. Convincing less than a million people to comply with a boycott should be easier than organizing 54 million. Convincing 18% of the population to give up their phones for a day is much different than convincing 98% or the people. So it's easy to imagine why Lebanon's boycott appeared more effective.

However if 20% of Italians really did refrain from using their handsets for just two hours, Italy's boycott will have been numerically and financially more effective than Lebanon's (even accounting for Lebanon's exorbitant per minute charges). Despite this, the boycott in Italy was still reported as a bit of joke, so it's unlikely carriers felt any noticeable effect despite the potential loss. The Lebanese Government at least took notice, but has not calculated any losses yet. It will still be a little while before we know if either Italian carriers or the Lebanese government took the silence seriously enough to lower rates.