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Bill Bennett

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2degrees astroturfing

When they want to create something that looks like a grass-roots campaign, but isn’t, big companies use astroturfing.

The Drop the Rate campaign that began yesterday with support from Consumer, Tuanz and 2degrees is a classic example.

At first sight it’s aims are laudable. Lord knows we pay way over the odds for mobile phone services. The campaign aims to put pressure on Vodafone and Telecom to cut the mobile termination rate or MTR. This is the amount one phone company has to pay another when customers call between networks.

Drop the rate mate campaign website

There’s no question New Zealand’s MTRs are high by international standards. That’s only part of the reason mobile phones are far more expensive to run here than in Australia – or just about anywhere else. It is also a major brake on the economy – calls that could be made, possibly should be made, are going unmade because of the high costs involved.

Yet despite it being worthy in principle, there’s something phony (or should that be phoney?) about the Drop the Rate campaign.

For a start, there’s an expensive PR company behind it.

Who is paying Matthew Hooton’s fee? Good on him for getting the job, but you can be sure Exceltium isn’t collecting money from cake stands and sausage sizzles for this work.

Second, 2degrees doesn’t want to talk about the MTRs it pays to Vodafone and Telecom and has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure grass roots, that’s real grass, not astroturf, New Zealanders don’t get to know the rate.

Of course no-one can blame 2degrees for taking part in this kind of stunt. Telecom and Vodafone play hardball. And both are less than snow-white in their marketing and political lobbying.

Campaign gets wide media coverage

Hooton certainly proved his PR skills. The Kiwi specialist press was full of the story. At The National Business Review Chris Keall expressed some weariness about the campaign in 2degrees again a little sneaky on MTRs at the National Business Review. The story got a good run in the New Zealand Herald and the Dominion Post.

At Computerworld Rob O’Neill seems more willing to take the campaign at face value. His Drop the rate mate’ campaign targets MTRs offers no comment. Paul Clearwater at The Line reports that Vodafone disputes the information on the campaign’s web site in ‘Drop the rate mate’ campaign begins.

Update: Computerworld reports on Hooton’s attack on Telecom and Vodafone in Mobile termination row goes nuclear. The story finishes;

Hooton has words for Telecom, too, as the MTR debate goes white hot.
“Telecom now seems to be saying that it needs to rip off mobile consumers in order to fund more investment in the industry,” he said. “Good luck to Telecom arguing that a cosy duopoly leads to more investment in services and coverage than a more competitive environment.”

My opinion: Hooton proves he is a worthy campaigner against the arrogance of Telecom and Vodafone – clearly he was the right man for the campaign. Despite this, I’m still not comfortable with the astroturfing.

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