New website rules for South Africa during lockdown

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has published a new directive which further regulates health-related and educational websites in South Africa.

The directive primarily deals with ‘zero-rating’ which is the practice of providing internet access without financial cost. Its objective is to increase access to online information and resources for users who cannot afford the costs of data.

The directive also provides the procedure to apply for zero-rating and the additional control measures which should be put in place.

It has been gazetted in terms of the Disaster Management Act, and takes effect immediately.


Education websites

The directive states that the following websites qualify for the zero-rating subject to approval by the National Department of Basic Education (DBE):

  • DBE and Provincial Education Departments’ (PED) websites/portals;
  • Local websites offering free access to educational content resources;
  • Local commercial websites 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;
  • Websites of educational institutions registered with the 9 PEDs; and
  • Websites of educational institutions accredited by Umalusi.

College and higher-education websites

Websites of the following institutions and colleges qualify for zero-rating subject to approval by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET):

  • An institution established, deemed to have been established or declared as a public higher education institution in terms of the Higher Education Act or a public Technical and Vocational Education and Training (WET) institution or a Community Education and Training (CET) college referred to in the Continuing Education and Training Act;
  • A public Nursing or Agricultural College;
  • An institution registered as a private higher education institution in terms of the Higher Education Act, 1997 or a private college registered in terms of the Continuing Education and Training Act;
  • 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;
  • An institution which has a memorandum of understanding or similar contract with an existing, registered higher education institution or college which must channel the request through the institution that it is working with. The latter institution must submit the request on the former institution’s behalf as critical to the former institution’s teaching & learning);
  • An institution which has an ac.za or edu.za domain.

Health sector

The following websites qualify for zero-rating subject to approval by the National Department of Health (DoH):

  • All Covid-19 related websites identified by the DoH;
  • Zero-rating must be provided for websites relevant to Mobile Health Applications approved by the DoH which provide information on Covid-19 or enable Covid-19 interventions.

Existing regulations 

At the end of March, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams approved new requirements for South African ISPs and website owners as part of the government’s plan to fight the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The directions include guidelines aimed at ensuring the smooth operations of telecoms networks and disseminating Covid-19 information to citizens.

The directions include a section which deals solely with the dissemination of information. The new rules include:

  • Broadcasting Licensees are required to receive and disseminate public information related to the national effort to combat the spread of Covid-19;
  • All licensees with access to radio frequency spectrum are required to make available their platforms for the streaming of public announcements to their subscribers;
  • Electronic Communications Services Licensees, OTTs and ISPs must remove fake news related to COVID-19 from their platforms immediately after it is identified as such;
  • All Internet sites operating within .zaDNA top-level domain name must have a landing page with a visible link to www.sacoronavirus.co.za;
  • Licensees must provide zero-rated access to local educational content websites;
  • Audiovisual services, especially the broadcasting services licensees, must increase their educational programmes to support awareness of Covid-19;
  • Licensees with access to high-demand spectrum must make available connectivity to 104 district virtual classroom platforms with minimum speeds of 10Mbps to support virtual teaching during the Covid-19 national disaster.

Read: Motshekga declares 95% of schools ready to open on Monday

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New website rules for South Africa during lockdown