The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has requested mobile operators and pay-TV providers to make their services free for the duration of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“In light of the recent developments with regards to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, ICASA has written to licensees in an effort to ensure that they make communication services available to all South Africans.”
“These engagements take place in the context of the expected surge in usage of data as the majority of South Africans across all sectors have no option but to work from home, learn from home and carry on their day-to-day life activities from home through technological means.”
ICASA said it also expected a rise in data usage, which could put a strain on the capacity of networks.
ICASA Acting Chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng said it was therefore necessary to adjust its regulations accordingly.
“In this context it is therefore critical that the authority consider regulatory concessions or relaxations to enable the sector to meet the demands of the business-unusual environment occasioned by the pandemic,” Modimoeng said.
Cheap or free mobile data
ICASA requested broadband service providers to facilitate affordable or free access to data for South Africans.
“ICASA is requesting all network service providers to heed the call to enable the country to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by facilitating easy and affordable (and/or free) access to data.”
It said it would engage with the sector on possible ways to provide radio frequency spectrum relief for the duration of the declared state of disaster to ease congestion.
“Furthermore, to the extent that the licensees will wish to tailor packages – specifically data packages – to respond to the pandemic, the authority will consider relaxation of the tariff notification filing requirements to enable speedy roll out of such packages.”
Open up pay-TV
ICASA said it is also engaging with broadcasting licensees to facilitate ease of access to information about the COVID-19 outbreak.
As part of this, all individual and class broadcasting services must make public service announcements about the pandemic in the public interest, as is required by the relevant authorities.
Additionally, it called on subscription broadcasters to open their audio and television bouquets to all South Africans.
“The subscription broadcasting services licensees have been requested to open both their audio and television bouquets to consumers that do not subscribe to their services.”
“This will assist the public to have access to information that they can use to deal with the scourge of the virus that is facing the country.”
”The authority believes that these measures are critical during this period of declared state of disaster.”
“They are in line with the authority’s mandate of regulating in the public interest to enable the ICT sector to implement critical measures that would see South Africans being able to deal with the pandemic.”