Bangladesh Youth Protest Exorbitant Internet Fees With Millions of Coordinated Missed Calls

Maybe the best way to intentionally exploit missed calls yet.

Jan 29 2013, 6:17pm

In Bangladesh, at any given time, some 70% of total cellphone network traffic is comprised of intentionally missed calls. As in other developing nations, especially in South Asia and Africa, savvy citizens have propagated a system to take advantage of mobile tech without getting slammed by exorbitant rates for minutes—they hang up before a call is completed to send brief, universal messages.

One missed call can mean ‘I’m ready’—even businesses will use a missed call to alert customers to a shipment or opening—while two in a row means ‘I’m running late,’ and so on. It’s pretty ingenious, and the code is so widely understood that companies are being founded specifically to take advantage of it. Bangladeshi service providers have dropped rates some 90%, but free is free, and missed calls continue to dominate.

While cell plan rates may be falling, other crucial mobile services are not. Particularly, Bangladeshi youth noticed that while the government has worked continuously to lower prices for internet—and mobile internet—the nation’s biggest service providers appear to simply be pocketing the profit.

So, activists are primed to employ the perfect tool for voicing their anger—a mass missed call protest.

According to Global Voices Online, two pseudonym’d Bangladeshi Facebookers put together a page called “Missed call: The tool for our protests,” in which they explain their grievances:

“If you can remember, GrameenPhone introduced their EDGE package in 2006 and the price remained constant. Their 1GB volume shared internet package is still BDT 350. The government has reduced price twice in the meantime but their price has not changed a bit.” The other providers, they say, are just as guilty.

So, the plan:

We will keep every mobile network busy at a specific time and date, without spending a penny. And the easiest way is to use “miss call”. If we start to send miss call to our contacts in a specific time, then the BTS of the mobile operators will be busy. As we are not paying anything, we have nothing to lose. The company will lose as we are using their network without any revenue. If a lot of people can do it at once then the impact will be felt by the company.

The page eventually reached 250,000 people, and the protest date was last Sunday, January 27th. The activists sent millions of missed calls to one another, all free of charge, of course, clogging up phone service for three hours during the day. The telecom companies have yet to issue a response to the demonstration, but the idea itself proved popular enough to mobilize Bangladesh's wired protesters. If the ploy succeeds, activists may have found the most potent use yet for missed calls.