Advocacy trust withdraws MTN zero-rating court case

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga
Johannesburg, 23 Jul 2020

DG Murray Trust (DGMT) has withdrawn its court action to compel MTN to zero-rate local educational Web sites run by public benefit organisations (PBOs).

The DG Murray Trust, which advocates SA’s development through public innovation and strategic investment, launched a court application last week to force the mobile network operator to zero-rate the Web sites, which it says were officially approved, but the telco had not actioned.

According to the trust, the Department of Basic Education approved a list of 39 PBO Web sites on 8 May, and until last week, “only Telkom and other fixed-line operators had zero-rated the PBO sites”.

In its latest statement, the advocacy organisation says MTN has eventually fully complied with the demands made in the court application and zero-rated the approved PBO Web sites by yesterday, 22 July.

After confirming its intention to defend, MTN’s lawyers (Webber Wentzel) provided a letter to DGMT’s legal counsel (Dunster Attorneys) confirming that all 39 Web sites would be zero-rated by the end of yesterday (22 July).

DGMT says it launched the application on the grounds that the poorest children, who do not have access to online education in their schools, but could benefit from the digital educational resources of PBOs, should not be pushed to the back of the queue in terms of the order in which Web sites are zero-rated.

“We are thrilled with MTN’s accelerated action to zero-rate the Web sites of PBOs,” says Dr David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust.

“This means that many more poor children will have access to stories, language and maths. It is strong recognition that public benefit organisations play a crucial role in education in South Africa.”

The advocacy trust says it will keep monitoring the zero-rating of public benefit organisations to ensure full compliance by all network operators.

Among the educational Web sites zero-rated by MTN are Cotlands Ignite Potential, Funda Wande, FunDza, The OLICO Foundation Maths Education and the Click Foundation Learning Portal.

Responding to ITWeb about the delay in zero-rating the sites, Jacqui O’Sullivan, executive for corporate affairs at MTN, says along with the other operators, the telco has been working with the Department of Basic Education and Department of Communication and Digital Technologies to zero-rate the URLs that are approved through the Project Management Office (PMO) that has been formed by these two national departments.

“The PMO has referred a list of 980 URLs for zero-rating and while MTN is diligently working through the list, the coding, vetting and security checking process is complex and we can therefore only complete the zero-rating of a limited number of sites a week. MTN has already zero-rated 648 URLs of the 980 approved by government, with more being added each day.

“Our efforts have been aligned with that of government to ensure that students are able to access online educational resources to continue their studies during this difficult time. While we have zero-rated a number of public benefit Web sites, our priority has been on schools, and on adding PBOs where possible,” explains O’Sullivan.