Correction: The article initially stated 20GB of free data per day, instead of 20MB. Apologies for any confusion caused.
MTN South Africa has announced the outcomes of engagements with the Competition Commission (CompCon), including 20MB of free “lifeline data” daily.
The timing of the announcement could not have been better, as the COVID-19 crisis forces millions of South Africans to stay at home. World Wide Worx has long argued that a basic allocation of free data was essential to expand Internet access in South Africa.
With much of the country going into lockdown, access has now become a basic need, along with housing, water and electricity, as the entire school and university population is forced to turn to remote education.
MTN made the decision in response to an announcement in December 2019 by the CompCom of a Data Service Market Inquiry, which required that mobile network operators provide “lifeline data”, as well as bringing down the cost of prepaid data.
The outcome of MTN’ss engagements with the CompCom is a set of voluntary undertakings “in the form of a social compact to further address the affordability of data services for its customers”. MTN says it remains in discussion with the CompCom on the options to formalise these elective solutions.
MTN has focused on three areas of reducing the cost to communicate: the affordability of monthly prepaid bundles, lifeline data and the zero-rating of data for public benefit service websites.
Vodacom made a similar announcement on 10 March, but rather than offer lifeline data, it expanded its range of zero-rated sites.
MTN SA said it will, from April 2020, reduce the price of its monthly bundles of 1GB and below by between 25% and 50%. The 1GB monthly bundle, formerly costing R149, will decrease by 33% to R99. This is the same reduction announced by Vodacom last week.
MTN will also expand the range of zero-rated websites, which already includes schools, to include health, public universities, vocational colleges, educational resources and employment sites. As Vodacom did in announcing a catch-all zero-rated portal called Connect U, MTN announced OpenTime, which will enable free access to public benefit services.
MTN’s approach is to offer a monthly 500MB free data access to public benefit services websites every month, making allowance for up to 500 sites. While this may prove insufficient to address all the needs of remote learning, MTN went a step further by agreeing to provide lifeline data.
It will provide each of its customers with 20MB of free data daily – the equivalent of 600MB per month. The data will be accessible via its instant messaging platform, Ayoba, which currently has 500 000 customers. It is likely that the free data allowance will see an explosion of use of the service.
While this does not address the issue of smartphone users being unable to update or use apps due to not being able to afford data, it does allow them to access the world of instant messaging at no cost.
The Ayoba app is available in isiZulu, isiXhosa, English and Afrikaans and can be used on Android devices. On 1 July, Ayoba Browsing of general websites will be made available. The service will allow MTN customers to browse the internet on websites of their choice between midnight and 5am.
Ayoba messages sent to a feature phone, or another user without the Ayoba app, arrive at these customers as a standard SMS. The response back from an MTN customer to the smart phone arrives as an Ayoba message and the MTN customer’s text reply is also free.
MTN hastened to assure investors that this would all be good for business. It said in a statement: “While there will be pressure on MTN SA’s short-term financial performance from these initiatives, MTN believes that the reduction in pricing will be compensated over time by elasticity and customer growth, and growth in prepaid data service revenue will return in a couple of quarters.”
It also called for the swift allocation of spectrum to make free and affordable services more viable: “Radio spectrum is the digital highway upon which we depend to carry increasing mobile data at more cost-effective prices. This is acutely felt in South Africa, which has among the lowest spectrum allocation in all our MTN markets. The release of new spectrum in South Africa is urgently needed and will greatly assist our ability to service increased customer demand in a more cost-effective manner.”
MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa said: “MTN believes that everyone deserves the benefit of a modern connected life and that starts with connectivity.”
Click here to read about additional measures MTN is taking to address the coronavirus crisis.
How retailers must respond to life under lockdown
As businesses settle into lockdown, South Africa’s largest second-hand retailer, Cash Crusaders offer other retail businesses – that have also been forced to close, some advice and recommendations on preparing for, and managing through the lockdown. The group that have been operating for over 20 years with over 220 stores nationwide, also offer advice on considerations retail store owners – and other businesses, should make as the country makes their COVID-19 economic recovery.
Follow the rules
Ensure that you follow the rules set out by our President for the lockdown. As bitter as this pill may be to swallow, the longer-term benefits for our country and our businesses far outweigh the frustration and anxiety you may be feeling now. This is not a time to break the rules. #StayAtHome. It is a time to practice human responsibility, not complain about Human Rights being compromised. Countries who initially implemented loosely managed lockdowns, have had to extend to get the pandemic under control, so strict rules from the get-go will prevail in the fight against the virus.
Secure your stores
By now you should’ve secured your valuable goods and should have ensured all your security systems are in good working order. If you haven’t already, make sure your security companies have your correct contact information. Make sure your necessary insurance cover is up to date.
Keep your staff informed
They are and continue to be your most important asset!
By now, you may have needed to investigate UIF benefits to compensate for your employees loss of income. The Minister of Employment and Labour, T.W Nxesi has recently announced measures that the Department will put in place under the current special circumstance relating to the Corona virus (COVID-19) and its impact on UIF contributors.
The Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS) has been set up under the auspices of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). Employers apply for the TERS on behalf of its employees.
The TERS has two distinct advantages over UIF
- All employees qualify for up to 3 months of benefits, irrespective of how long they have contributed to the UIF and
- TERS will not pay any employee less than the minimum wage.
You can benefit from the TERS by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicants will then receive an automated response which outlines the steps you will need to take, as well as the details surrounding them – including the requirements to claim benefits. During the lockdown period, the Department of Labour will not accept manual applications (to reduce physical contact and risk of the virus spreading), this is to reduce contact between people to curtail the spread of the pandemic. A hotline number has been created by the UIF (012-337 1997) for Covid–19 TERS Benefit enquiries during the lockdown period.
Be sure to be calm when addressing any concerns with your team – they are anxious and nervous of what the eventuality of this outbreak may be.
Communicate with your bank
Make sure you’ve been in touch with your bank (as they are still operational) and discuss any loan repayment relief or postponement over the lockdown period (the banks have termed this a “payment holiday”). Work with them on a cash flow plan as once the lockdown has lifted, trading businesses will need liquid cash.
Contact your landlord
Ensure you’ve connected with your landlord to discuss and agree on any possible repayment or rent relief/payment holiday they may be able to offer you. Keep the channels of communications open with your landlord and bank – rather over-communicate than not communicate enough.
Keep communication open with your customers
The country may be on shutdown, but the internet isn’t. Communicate with your teams and customers by whatever necessary and relevant communication channels you have available to you – website, social media, PR/Marketing teams, newsletter dissemination etc.
Use this time wisely
Amidst all the chaos this time brings, there is also a silver lining. We all have time at this stage, but how many of us make valuable use of that time? Particularly when it comes to family. Business is demanding most times so with a forced shutdown of business it give you the time to spend with your family, catch up on outdated maintenance around the house and a period of rest. This lockdown period will also afford you uninterrupted strategy time. Take the time to reflect on areas of your business you can improve or evolve. Strategise ways to do things better or differently. Use the resource available via your own business network as well as the countless online content that is available, to work on a plan for the way forward. Consider your financial, loan and other business administration processes you have in place and look at new ways to optimise the channels and areas you’re working with or within. A host of online learning facilities offer short courses – perhaps consider upskilling yourself or members of your team by signing up for one of these too.
“These are some of the steps we’ve taken within our own organisation,” says Sean Stegmann, CEO of Cash Crusaders. “Having been in this business for as long as we have has afforded us the wealth of experience we’re able to share with our franchisees and other retail business owners to help navigate the next few weeks and recovery period,” he says. “Take it one day at a time and know that the decisions we’re being forced to make today will mean a future for us tomorrow, both in business and in health!,” he concludes
Vodacom cuts cost of smallest bundle by 40%
The country’s largest mobile operator has kept to a promise made last month to slash the price of entry-level data packages
Vodacom has cut the data price of its lowest-cost bundle by 40%, reducing the price of a 50MB 30-day bundle from R20 to to R12. This follows from the operator’s promise in March, when it announced a 33% cut in the cost of 1GB bundles, to reduce prices of all smaller bundles by up to 40%.
Vodacom’s various 30-day data bundle prices will be cut across all of its channels, with the new pricing as follows:
|30-day bundle size||New Price||Reduction|
Vodacom confirmed it will provide free data to access essential services through Vodacom’s zero-rated platform ConnectU with immediate effect. The value of these initiatives, it says, is R2.7-billion over the next year.
“Vodacom can play a critical role in supporting society during this challenging time and we’re committed to doing whatever we can to help customers stay connected,” says Jorge Mendes, Chief Officer of Vodacom’s Consumer Business Unit. “Since we started our pricing transformation strategy three years ago, our customers have benefitted from significant reductions in data prices and the cost of voice calls. Over the same period, we invested over R26 billion in infrastructure and new technologies, so our customers enjoy wider 2G, 3G and 4G coverage and vastly increased data speeds.”
The latest data reductions will complement the discounted bundle offers that will also be made available to prepaid customers in more than 2,000 less affluent suburbs and villages around the country. For qualifying communities to access further discounted voice and data deals, they need to click on the scrolling ConnectU banner on the platform via connectu.vodacom.co.za
ConnectU – which is a zero-rated platform – also went live this week. It will provide content aimed at social development and offers a variety of essential services for free. Learners and students enrolled in schools and universities can access relevant information for free, with no data costs. The ConnectU portal includes a search engine linked to open sources such as Wikipedia and Wiktionary as well as free access to job portals; free educational content on the e-School platform; free health and wellness information and free access to Facebook Flex, the low data alternative to Facebook that enables customers to stay socially connected.
Vodacom’s popular Just4You platform has been a significant contributor to the approximately 50% reduction in effective data prices over the past two years. Substantial cuts in out-of-bundle tariffs and the introduction of hourly, daily and weekly bundles with much lower effective prices have also driven increased value and affordability, resulting in R2-billion in savings for customers in 2019.