The South African government on Sunday marked the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), pledging to enhance digital technologies in combatting COVID-19.
“Today we observe this day when the world is seized with curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, and South Africa too has not been spared,” said Acting Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Jackson Mthembu.
The WTISD, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly May 17, 1969, is aimed at raising awareness on the possibilities that the use of the internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.
The fight against COVID-19 has put into sharp focus the need for the sector to patriotically work as a collective and deploy its capabilities in fighting the spread of the virus, said Mthembu.
If used correctly, digital technologies have the potential to aid the containment of COVID-19 and mitigate some of the challenges brought upon by the spread of the virus, Mthembu said.
In an effort to ensure that all South Africans have access to telecommunications services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has assigned temporary radio frequency spectrum to mobile network operators, according to Mthembu.
This is to ensure that all citizens be able to access ICT services as well as government programs in the fight against this pandemic, he said.
As part of the COVID-19 interventions, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, working with the Departments of Basic and Higher Education, and in partnership with mobile network operators and internet service providers, has approved 471 zero-rated local websites for educational purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The websites provide information which can help South Africans contain the spread of the coronavirus, Mthembu said.
In addition to the 471 websites, an additional 295 sites are awaiting approval, he said.
Zero rating of telecommunications and data services for specified public services like health, education and public service pronouncements is a very important intervention to empower society and the youth, in particular, to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19, Mthembu said.
“Whilst we appreciate the recent lowering of data prices by mobile network operators, we believe much more can be done by the sector,” he said.
The provision of affordable fast speed broadband connectivity and connecting our people to the world is more important now than ever before, Mthembu said. Enditem