South Africa: Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Obligations and Roles of the Electronic Communications Sector Published
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Directions pertaining to the communications sector were issued on 26 March 2020 by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (the "Minister"), to ensure the smooth operations of the electronic communications sector – as essential services – during the disaster period to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in South Africa. These directions, published in theGovernment Gazette, have been issued pursuant to regulation 10(8) of the Regulations issued in terms of section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (the “Regulations”).
The purpose of the directions is to ensure the availability and use of digital technologies to combat the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa, in regard to the dissemination of real-time public information, upgrades and access to infrastructure and services, the tracking and tracing of persons and to support education and health sectors and local government.
The vast majority of the directions apply to and impose obligations on electronic communications network and service licensees (“licensees”); commercial and community broadcasters; internet service providers (“ISPs”); companies that provide “over the top” services (“OTTs”) and postal service licensees (including courier services).
The directions also apply to all property owners (both public and private) and are intended to remove obstacles to and facilitate the rapid deployment of electronic communication networks and services to address increased demand and usage of services. These obligations also include requirements for broadcasters to broadcast public service announcements related to the national combat effort.
We provide a summary of the directions below. The full notice containing the Directions is accessible here. However, we highlight a few general noteworthy points that affect businesses that are not licensees, as well as consumers. These include a requirement:
Obligations on licensees
Responsibilities of the Authority
The Directions list various roles to be performed by certain state-owned entities to assist with the COVID-19 disaster in accordance with their various capabilities. These include:
The directions are silent on failure to comply.
The offences and penalties contained in the Regulations appear to have little if any, applicability to non-compliance with these directions. However, it may be arguable that failure to comply with the requirement for a licensee, OTT provider and ISPs to remove fake news related to COVID-19 from their platform immediately after this has been identified, may fall within section 11(5) of the Regulations. These state in relevant part, that:
“Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about- (a) COVID-19; (b) COVID-19 infection status of any person; or (c) any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.”
Should you require any assistance in interpreting or understanding your obligations as a result of these regulations, please contact:
Technology, Media and Telecommunications Growing Business Executive
+27 82 999 0202
Technology, Media and Telecommunications Director
+27 82 926 8751
COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020. The disease has since been reported in over 190 countries.
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