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Zapotel? Telpotec?

22 July 2013

When the Spanish believed they’d gained control of the Sierra Negra in Oaxaca, they sent out a couple of royal tax officials, who the Zapotecs, not having much use for the niceties of Mexico City bureaucrats, ate. While like most hill-country people around the world, they don’t have much use for outsiders, they of course, like everybody else in the world, have to deal with the outside world, which sometimes is reluctant to deal with them.  But, there’s always a way.

Indigenous-language FM stations have been  serving remote areas of Mexico since the 1950s.  At the time, the FM band was not much used and the stations were more or less “pirate radio”, but were left alone, not being of  of any particular economic interest to corporate interests.  With the Zapatista uprising of the 1990s at least in part oaxacacelularrooted in resistance to privatization of public goods (like radio frequencies) and to what was seen as unwanted control of the indigenous communities by outside business interests, there was a need for including a clause in the San Andreas Accords (which ended the uprising)  recognizing the rights of these communal stations, and ceding their bandwidth to indigenous communes.

Zapotecs in Oaxaca’s  Sierra Negra region … which include some of the 50,000 indigenous Mexicans without access to telephone service… have been trying for several years to convince telephone companies to at least put in cellular towers, only to be told it is not economically feasible to service the region.

It’s not that the Zapotecs don’t have cell phones… they do, but use them either to connect to the internet and download music (or listen to the community radio), and as a calculator or a camera.  But they haven’t been able to use their telephones to make telephone calls.  Until now.

Having installed their own towers, a computer system at Radio Comunitaria Dizha Kieru, based in Telea de Castro handles calls directed to a single number at the station, which is transferred to individual phones.  At present, to avoid over-taxing the system, calls are automatically disconnected after five minutes.  Still, at fifty centavo per call, as opposed to the six pesos per minute it would cost on a land line, it means Zapotecs in the Sierra Negra can say in contact with the family members working in  Seattle or Los Angeles.

While Zapotel or Telpotec or whatever you want to call it has a financial hurdle to overcome… if they want to expand, they need to find less expensive equipment … the real  challenges are regulatory.  The Federal agency overseeing telephone service  (Cofetel) is set up to deal with corporate telephone companies, not communal services.  Regional phone companies have to cover at least four states, and while the communal cellular system could be expanded to cover other indigenous communities, whether it would be able to claim to be a Zapotec communal system and covered by the San Andreas Accords, rather than the regulatory framework, or if it is even a telephone company as defined in the regulations  (and, more to the point, what the major telephone companies will do about the upstart) isn’t at all clear.

Source:  Agencia de Noticias del Ithmo.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 22 July 2013 6:43 am

    haha!  Slim will get his fingers into this yet.

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