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Govt bans mobile data price surge, number portability during lockdown

Read time 3min 20sec
Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has forbidden the increase of mobile data prices and mobile number portability during the nationwide lockdown.

This comes as government has taken a strong stance against excessive price hikes by service retailers from provinces across the country since the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The communications ministry yesterday published a Government Gazette, which contains the critical interventions (directions) the department is taking to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on the communications and digital technologies sector.

The Gazette states: “All licensed entities must not effect any prices and not perform mobile number portability for the duration of the COVID-19 national disaster.”

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams first indicated her department’s plans to prohibit price increments and mobile number portability during a media briefing about COVID-19 in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Ndabeni-Abrahams explained that during such precarious times, it becomes a situation whereby people want to “exploit the opportunity in order to enrich themselves”.

Banning mobile number portability, for example, is to avoid scammers or minimise the impact of scammers, she said. According to the minister, the chances of scammers calling people to request personal details disguised as a number porting process are likely to increase during such times.

Local is lekker

As the department in charge of the country’s ICT agenda and facilitating communications, the DCDT has prioritised certain regulations in terms of dissemination of public information as a result of the declaration of a state of disaster.

The department has made it compulsory for class and broadcasting service licensees to receive and disseminate public information related to the national effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in all local languages, including sign language.

Furthermore, all electronic communications service licensees and electronic communications network service licensees with access to radio frequency spectrum are required to make their platforms available for the streaming of public announcements to their customers and subscribers.

On the issue of fake news, the communications ministry had indicated it is taking a strong stance.

This week, the minister revealed her department had engaged platform owners, asking them to “quickly remove any content that is reported fake”.

The regulations gazetted by the communications minister say electronic communications service licensees, over-the-top players and Internet service providers that provide linear and non-linear services bear the responsibility to remove fake news related to COVID-19 from their platforms immediately after being identified as such.

The regulations also direct all Internet sites operating within the .zaDNA top-level domain name to have a landing page with a visible link to www.sacoronavirus.co.za.

Zero-rated focus

During this week’s press conference, Ndabeni-Abrahams lauded efforts made by operators to zero-rate not only education content but also all government Web sites, including non-profit organisations’ Web sites, to make sure people have access to government services.

In the regulations, the minister says, to support the health and education sectors during this period, electronic communications licensees are directed to zero-rate access to identified COVID-19 sites and local educational content on their Web sites.

“Audio-visual services, especially the broadcasting service licensees, are directed to increase health and educational programmes to support COVID-19 awareness.

“The minister has further directed electronic communications service providers, who are the main users of high-demand spectrum, to make available connectivity to 104 district virtual classroom platforms with minimum speeds of 10Mbps to support virtual teaching during the COVID-19 national disaster.”

The directions came into operation on the date of publication in the Government Gazette and will remain in effect for the duration of the declared COVID-19 disaster period.

Click here to read the Government Gazette. 

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