Small US-based MVNO Patriot Mobile has garnered national headlines in recent weeks over its involvement in several Texas school board elections. This past spring, the company supported eleven candidates for school board across the state. The school board candidates in question all subscribe to the notion that Christians are called upon to instill biblical values into all aspects of American society which, until recently, was largely relegated to the fringes of American politics. Given that the United States Constitution expressly refers to a separation between religion and government, the fact that all eleven candidates won their seats is quite notable, as is the active support provided by Patriot Mobile.
Patriot Mobile markets itself as a “Christian conservative wireless provider,” and visibly provides tangible support to a range of conservative political causes important to a specific group of American voters, who are also their target consumers. As a business strategy, this appears to be paying off for them: the company claims that its number of subscribers increased in 2021 by 100%.
In order to compete with larger providers, MVNOs have long marketed themselves to specific communities and identity groups as a way to subdivide the market. Concentrating on these kinds of smaller groups allow for more targeted creativity in both branding and plan design, such as the use of specific languages, slang terminology, and celebrity personalities in marketing efforts and the inclusion of specific features appealing to those demographics.
The most common sub-groups popular with MVNOs have been the youth demographic or immigrants from a specific country. More recently, however, the strategy has expanded into different types of sub-groups, many of which are more narrowly defined. Political affiliation has become an increasingly important identity signifier for many consumers. In addition, as an identity, it has become infused with a passion and energy that one might previously have only associated with sports fans and is therefore primed for targeted marketing. Thus, it makes sense that MVNOs such as Patriot Mobile are leveraging these societal divides to better focus their offerings, and that these offerings are finding success.
However, moving from an MVNO based on political identity to a political action MVNO, as Patriot Mobile has done, poses systemic risks, not just for the operator pursuing this strategy, but for the entire mobile industry. The telecom industry is highly regulated and highly technical. It depends on a cooperative relationship with government agency and society-wide trust, both of which it needs to thrive. If elements of the industry are seen not just as associated with a political identity but actively and tangibly working to impose ideologies (fringe or otherwise), this collaborative relationship could be jeopardized for the entire industry, opening the door to more government intervention, as well as policies that change radically with every election cycle.