Vodacom, MTN, and all ISPs must give free access to COVID-19 websites

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has issued regulations which require that all Internet service providers must zero-rate certain sites with information about COVID-19.

All Electronic Communications Service and Electronic Communications Network Service licensees must abide by the new regulation. This includes cellular network operators like Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom, and Rain.

Sites that must be zero-rated will be identified by the Department of Health by notice in the government gazette “from to time”.

In addition to zero-rating access to COVID-19 sites, the regulations will also require network operators to provide connectivity for virtual classrooms.

The regulations refer to “Individual Electronic Communications Network Service licensees with access to IMT Radio Frequency Spectrum assignment”. This includes consumer-facing cellular networks like Vodacom and MTN, but also operators like Liquid Telecom.

“The Authority shall determine, after consultation with the relevant Departments responsible for education and communications, the number of district virtual classroom platforms to support virtual teaching during the COVID-19 national disaster, which shall be connected by the Individual Electronic Communications Network Service licensees with access to IMT Radio Frequency Spectrum assignment.”

The provisions above were part of ICASA’s regulations on the information and communications technology industry for the duration of the national state of disaster as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The regulations were released on 6 April and are titled “The ICT COVID–19 National Disaster Regulations“.

Data price cuts

The regulations from ICASA follow Vodacom and MTN cutting their mobile data prices in South Africa.

Vodacom cut its 30-day data bundle prices by up to 40%, while MTN said it would reduce monthly data bundles prices by between 25% – 50% from 15 April 2020.

Jorge Mendes, Chief Officer of Vodacom’s Consumer Business Unit, said Vodacom can play a critical role in “supporting society during this challenging time”. Additionally, it will provide free data to access essential services through Vodacom’s zero-rated platform ConnectU.

MTN SA added that it will offer customers 500MB free data access to public benefit services websites every month, amounting to 6GB per year.

Now read: 7 things mobile operators must show before they can get extra spectrum

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Vodacom, MTN, and all ISPs must give free access to COVID-19 websites