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Phone Communities and Activism Showcase

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From government overthrows in the Philippines to the Republican Convention in New York, telephony systems have been hacked to make political statements and empower the those without a voice. Rabble …

From government overthrows in the Philippines to the Republican Convention in New York, telephony systems have been hacked to make political statements and empower the those without a voice. Rabble and Blaine, two close observers of this space, take you on a tour of what people have done for themselves with the technology around them to create new and novel applications.

Talk given at the O'Reilly Emerging Telephony Conference in January 2006.

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  • 1. Telephony and Activism
  • 2. The Means of Communication • Social Justice organizations have traditionally had no access to powerful telephony tools • Zero, or marginal, budgets • No organizational capacity to work with Carriers or TelCos • Just a strong desire to evoke positive social change
  • 3. The RNC in New York
  • 4. • August 2004 - Asterisk 0.9.7 • 500,000 people protesting in the New York streets. • We were in San Francisco,Vancouver, and in a cabin at 3000 ft in Northern California.
  • 5. RNC VoIP Info Line • Text-to-Speech for Mobile RSS updates from Indymedia • Event Calendars using TTS and RSS • Live Radio Call-in • Streaming MP3 Radio Stations • Total cost: $7
  • 6. SMS - TxtMob • Action alerts via SMS • Simple web-based signup • SMS groups • The problem: Spam Filters
  • 7. 2004 Elections • Last-minute project: 3 weeks, 4 developers • Volunteer Coordination • Polling Place Information
  • 8. Mass Messaging • BIG Groups - 20,000 Volunteers • Deliver messages by state • Time sensitive: delivery within 20 minutes • Repeat several times a day
  • 9. Mass Messaging is Hard • Massive obstacles accessing 1000 lines • VoIP resellers are good at promises • Not so good at delivering • Call quality issues – delays, drops. • Never delivered projected volume of calls, but system was used at 1/10th capacity
  • 10. Vote by SMS • Send out SMS with polling place info • Young Democrats signed up (no, really) to be contacted with their polling place info • How do you do this in 2004 without SMSC, after experience of TxtMob blockage?
  • 11. P2P SMS • Java Applets, loaded in-browser • Communicate with central server • Carrier lookup (85%, no access to number portability info) • Database of carrier SMS-Me email addresses (e.g., 4155551212@tmomail.com) • Email SMS from web browsers, ~200/minute
  • 12. Election Project Costs • VoIP Message Delivery: $1500, including 15 servers from ServerBeach and ~5 rounds of VoIP contract negotiation. • SMS Delivery: $0
  • 13. The End? (we really hope not)
  • 14. Elsewhere • Philippines • Africa • Spain • Portland • Future Projects
  • 15. Ring Tones • Philippines, txtpower.org • Most popular ring tone in the country • Presidential corruption scandal, remixed with pop songs • Catalyst for Pro-Democracy Protests
  • 16. Frontline SMS • SMS Management for remote applications • Clinic data collection systems in the developing world • Clandestine Radio - Zimbabwe listener feedback system
  • 17. Human Rights • Rapid alert system to prevent human rights abuses in the Congo • Mobile phones with solar chargers • Vital communications link for rural communities
  • 18. Women’s Rights • Campaign for Treaty on the Rights of Women • SMS petition gathering • News updates to campaigners via sms • Members who have no other electronic news media
  • 19. Spain • Terrorist attacks 3 days before elections • Government reaction of disinformation • Popular response with protests coordinated via SMS messages
  • 20. Portland • Community TelCo • Use Sipura 3000 to provide POTS access • Collectivize resources, migrate to VoIP-only
  • 21. Freedom to Communicate • Walled gardens are a (very real) form of censorship • Beyond a “pay to play” TelCo system • Email, the Web, Linux, Asterisk are empowering technologies • Freedom to Innovate and Dissent
  • 22. You! • Lots of work to be done • Encrypted, anonymous Voicemail • Pay is terrible, hours are killer • Personal reward is immense • Just like Open Source