Mobile technology has the potential to transcend structural divides and enhance access to services that could accelerate socioeconomic development. However, apps and digital offerings that could link marginalised groups to much-needed resources are not being used effectively because prepaid data is unaffordable to most South Africans. Yet, if they had access to the information and services offered online by public benefit organisations, it would improve their quality of life and grow our economy.
Amid persistent lobbying from organisations like DGMT for zero-rating, new regulations began to take effect in 2020. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic made zero-rating all the more urgent. The forced closure of schools and early learning centres across the country meant that teaching and learning had to move online.
The National State of Disaster and provisional spectrum regulations forced mobile operators to zero-rate a wide range of websites. Although these obligations ended in April 2022, there have been positive developments since. The biggest breakthrough coincided with a multibillion-rand broadband auction. One of the conditions of new spectrum licences is that all mobile content provided by registered public benefit organisations (PBOs) must be zero-rated, with the operational costs borne by the network operators.
However, the mechanism to facilitate this is not yet in place. So, DGMT has offered to set up and maintain a single registry for PBOs (to register PBOs and monitor digital content) or to provide funding for ICASA to do so.
In this Nourish & Flourish podcast, we talk about why mobile network operators have a legal obligation to zero-rate the content of public benefit organisations, and how civil society can make sure this obligation is met. We speak to Mignon Hardie, Managing Director at Life Choices and the former executive director of FunDza Literacy Trust – an organisation that offers free reading resources to young people online; and David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust, which has long been lobbying for zero-rating.