Thursday, March 19, 2020

Coronavirus: ICASA says DStv and StarSat pay-TV must be made free and Vodacom and MTN must give cheap or free mobile data during the Covid-19 pandemic.

by Thinus Ferreira

With the rapid increase of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus in South Africa as society is increasingly hunkering down, South Africa's broadcasting regulator ICASA says it is asking mobile operators and pay-TV services to give people free DStv and free or cheap data.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa wants MultiChoice and StarSat to give away their pay-TV services for free to South Africans during the coronavirus pandemic and for mobile operators like Vodacom, MTN and Cell C to give people free data so that they can communicate and stay informed.

ICASA in a statement says that there is expected to be a "surge in usage of data as the majority of South Africans across all sectors have no option but work from home, learn from home and carry on their day to day life activities (for instance shopping, entertainment) from home through technological means".

"This will result in a spike in data usage, particularly as consumers also access information with regards to the pandemic – thus placing strain on the capacity of networks."

Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA acting chairperson, says ICASA is requesting all network service providers in the telecommunications industry 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".

"In this regard ICASA is engaging the sector on possible ways of radio frequency spectrum relief for the duration of the declared state of disaster to ease congestion, ensure good quality of broadband services, and enable licensees to lower cost of access to consumers, particularly in relation to education, emergency and other social services."

In terms of broadcasting Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng says that all broadcasting services are required to make Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about the Covid-19 virus in the public interest, but that over and above this that pay-TV providers like MultiChoice and StarTimes/StarSat "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."