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Zero-rating criteria for education, health sites gazetted

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With the education sector still continuing online studies under the COVID-19 lockdown, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has outlined directions on zero-rating of content and Web sites for education and health.

The South African government introduced a national lockdown in March as a way to delay the spread of the coronavirus. In his weekly newsletter yesterday, president Cyril Ramaphosa warned this week will see the total number of cases surpass the 50 000 mark, with the country recording over 1 000 deaths as a result of the devastating disease.

Under lockdown, the DCDT has prioritised supporting the education and health sectors by making sure relevant content is made available to citizens through zero-rated Web sites.

In the Government Gazette, the DCDT notes the directions are to provide a framework for the zero-rating of sites and indicates the application process to have the Web sites zero-rated.

In terms of the basic education sector, the directions note that Web sites or portals of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Provincial Education Departments (PED) qualify for zero-rating, subject to approval by the DBE.

In addition, this applies to local Web sites offering free access to educational content resources and local commercial sites that offer all learners unconditional or free access to educational content resources, or offer parents or learners direct access to their respective schools' teaching and learning content resources.

Also noted are: “Web sites of educational institutions registered with the nine PEDs and Web sites of educational institutions accredited by Umalusi.”

Higher learning

Turning to higher education sites, the directions note an institution established, deemed to have been established or declared as a public higher education institution, public technical and vocational education and training institution, or a community education and training college, as those that qualify for zero-rating, subject to approval by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

The DCDT’s directions also include an institution such as public nursing or agricultural college.

Furthermore on the list of directions is an institution accredited with one of the Quality Councils to offer programmes/courses, which must channel the request through the relevant Quality Council that will submit it on that institution's behalf.

Also applicable is an institution that has a memorandum of understanding or similar contract with an existing, registered higher education institution or college, as well as an institution which has an ac.za or edu.za domain.

Further regulations

In the health sector, the directions stipulate all COVID-19-related sites identified by the Department of Health (DOH) and local sites offering free access to COVID-19 health content resources qualify for zero-rating.

“Zero-rating must be provided for Web sites relevant to mobile health applications approved by the DOH, which provide information on COVID-19 or enable COVID-19 interventions.”

On the issue of further control measures for zero-rating Web sites, the gazette states the following:

  • Breakout from landing Web sites may be charged, particularly if and when the destination site is not covered within the criteria provided in the directions.
  • Web sites with missing technical information required by network operators for zero-rating, such as server name identification, will not be zero-rated. The list of these Web sites must be submitted to the DBE, DHET or DOH for them to gather missing technical information. Progress reporting will be based on Web sites with all information available.
  • An electronic communications service licensee that requires login details for Web sites that need to be zero-rated and are using login authentication, must submit a list of the Web sites that will be shared with relevant departments to make the necessary follow up. The site owner or administrator must provide the network operator with default login details in order to facilitate zero-rating.
  • To enable electronic communications service licensees to efficiently manage this service, Web sites with dynamic IP addresses will not be zero-rated.
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