Stories for Tomorrow – Lived Today, Everywhere

We are connection

Photo (CC BY-SA): Eticom

We are connection

Eticom is a rare treasure among telephony and Internet services in Spain: a participatory and not-for-profit cooperative that is committed to doing business for the common good.

For Adriana B, two pieces of news in the autumn of 2016 gave her the final nudge to go and look into the alternative telephony and internet service Eticom. The first was the revelation that the former chairman of Telefónica – the Spanish multinational telecommunications company that owns Movistar, O2 and Vibo – had pressured political leaders to prevent the formation of a progressive coalition government in Spain. And the second was the strike by telemarketing workers that raised alarm bells about precarious employment conditions in the sector. Workers appealed to the public to support them by jamming up the Movistar and Vodafone switchboards.

From outrage to the search for alternatives

The two cases illustrate the quite widespread public distrust of and outrage at large companies, which rake in millions in profits while causing extremely high rates of customer complaints, and also engaging in quite questionable labor – and even political – practices.

This outrage has deepened since 2011, when a powerful social movement – known as the “15-M movement” or “the indignados” – shook the conscience of Spanish society. An example of this is how, at the very peak of the 15-M movement, the branch offices of Triodos Bank – the largest ethical bank in Spain at the time – were swamped with new customers. At year-end 2011, the bank had some 60,000 customers. However, by the start of 2016, it had more than 200,000.


  • The Eticom cooperative’s constituent assembly in 2014. Photo (CC BY-SA): Eticom


  • Eticom’s members vote on company decisions, here in October 2015. Photo (CC BY-SA): Eticom


  • “We are energy. We are connection.” Any child will understand this. Photo (CC BY-SA): Eticom

  • The connection is no different from the services offered by any other provider – but the company works towards the common good. Photo (CC BY-SA): Eticom



Some of the outrage has ebbed down since 2011. However, it does seem clear that these alternatives have a bright future, as many people have adopted the principle of seeking out consumer alternatives that are more in tune with their values.

We cannot expect cooperative telephony to achieve growth figures as spectacular as those of ethical banking. Eticom is still young – it was founded in 2014 and has some 3,000 contracts in late 2016. At present, Eticom only offers telephony and mobile Internet services through the Orange network (in Spain, network concessions are held by Movistar, Vodafone, Orange and Yoigo). However, the initiatives expects to also offer home Internet and telephony soon.

What Carme P. likes about Eticom is “that the prices are not only competitive, but stable. There’s no minimum commitment period, no invasive advertising or deceptive promotions, the relationship is straightforward and kind, and you know that everything we pay is used to provide us with better service.”

Eticom and the solidarity-based economy For Eticom member Andrea C. “what is unique is the deep satisfaction of supporting a project that is not-for-profit and oriented toward community building; where, in addition to benefiting from their services, I can participate in decisions relating to their labor or marketing policies, and so on. Or I can simply place my trust in an organization that I know closely reflects my values.”

Eticom, according to its president Oscar Rando, “aims to generate a positive social and environmental impact and contribute to the transformation of the economic system and telecommunications through consumption.” An example is its transparency concerning labor affairs: Rando explains that “the six people currently working at Eticom earn an average of €1300 per month (in 12 payments).”

The full name of the project is Eticom – Somos Conexión (We Are Connection). The second part of the name is, according to Oscar, “a clear allusion to Som Energia (We Are Energy)”, a green energy cooperative that has already passed the 40,000-contract mark and “which is a point of reference that has inspired projects similar to Eticom” - or the later Som Mobilitat [We Are Mobility]. The “fundamental principle of initiatives like Eticom is not competition, but rather cooperation”. In fact, all of the initiatives quoted above are part of the solidarity-based economy network Economia Solidaria, a movement bringing together hundreds of organizations and companies with principles such as those described above.

How can we join?

Noè M. had his mind made up and joined the cooperative at the highest possible commitment level, which means “contributing 100 Euro to the share capital – which you can recoup if you leave the cooperative –, and this allows you to sponsor five lines to share them with family and friends.”Noè usually offers people his leftover lines “because there are people who are motivated enough to take a small step, but not enough to join.” And he has managed to “offer it on social networks, so as to encourage acquaintances I don’t see very often, or with whom the subject doesn’t come up very often in conversation.” Of course, only members can take part in the cooperative’s decision-making process.

Eticom is a member of mésOpcions, an “intercooperation” project that bundles together the goods and services offered by a number of cooperatives – in addition to Eticom, including Som Energia and Fiare – and which, according to its coordinator, Jordi Rojas, “seeks to provide access to social market services. For just six euros a year, you can access the services of all the projects without having to become a member of each one of them.”

These are ways to take part in a project that not only involves a different company: it is part of an ecosystem of alternatives that shows us that economic alternatives are available which, in addition to putting people first, are reliable and sustainable.

Opcions magazine has monographs on mobile telephony (issues 32 and 33), collaborative economies (44) and Internet consumption: http://opcions.org/es/revista-es/

    About

    October 2017
    Community
    Spain, Barcelona

    Eticom
    mésOpcions
    Economia Solidaria

    Author

    Toni Lodeiro
    publishes and consults on new cultures of consumption. He writes for Opcions magazine. His personal website is  http://tonilodeiro.net/ .

    Translated by

    James Hollander

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