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  • South African cellphone operators are now required to send two public-service announcements a day on the novel coronavirus disaster to all their customers.
  • That is on top of notifications about anything the President or minister of health has to say about Covid-19, according to new regulations published on Monday.
  • The department of health now also has the power to create a list of Covid-19 websites, which you will then be able to access without having to pay for data.
  • Go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage for more stories.

Every South African cellphone subscriber will be getting at least two SMSes ever day about the coronavirus disaster, under new rules published by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on Monday.

Cellphone companies are now required to send “at least two public announcements per day regarding the prevention and management of Covid-19”, under powers granted to Icasa in terms of disaster management regulations.

The regulations say nothing more on what should be in those messages, and whether they can be repeated.

SMSes must also be sent “notifications of all announcements by the Minister of Health or the Presidency” under the same rules.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize currently provides updates on the progress of efforts to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 daily.

The SMS messages must be sent “free of charge”, the regulations specify.

In the same regulatory update, Icasa said that internet providers must “zero rate” Covid-19 websites, which would make them free to access without using up any free or bundled data allocations, or see users pay for the data in any way.

The department of health can publish a list of websites to be included in the government gazette, and update it as it sees fit.

In similar rules published previously, every website with a ZA domain was required to include a link to the official government Covid-19 portal on its front page.

There has been little evidence of that linking requirement being policed and enforced. 

The new regulations do not specify what will happen to cellphone companies if they fail to send the prescribed messages, or do not zero-rate Covid-19 websites. However, Icasa has wide-ranging powers to deal with non-compliance to its rules under even normal circumstances, up to and including shutting down cellphone companies.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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