In stark contrast to earlier media reports as to what would constitute “essential services”, the Regulations published in terms of the impending Coronavirus lockdown are far from clear and explicit when it comes to ICT, including datacentres, fibre optic infrastructure, towers and antennae.
Earlier media reports also appeared to provide clarity around what would constitute “enabling services”, and these initially included:
- call centres providing life and health; energy, food and water supply, social, transactional, communications, law and order and international critical business continuity services;
- professional and artisan services, to the extent that they are providing support in the Covid-19 response, essential and critical business continuity services;
- hotels, airlines, stadiums, car rental services, to the extent that they are supporting essential or critical business continuity services;
- communication and media services on screen, TV, radio, print, broadcast and online; and
- safety and security services protecting people and property.
Unfortunately, the Regulations do not provide such level of clarity and this has naturally created much uncertainty, especially in the ICT sector.
From an ICT perspective, the Regulations are explicit only on the following as constituting essential services or goods:
- Newspaper, broadcasting and telecommunications infrastructure and services; and
- Basic goods, including airtime.
Even with this clarity, it is still open to interpretation whether, for example, data centres are included in the ambit of telecommunications infrastructure and services. Further, having regard to the 27 other categories of essential services as well as the other categories of essential goods, in a world driven by IT, it can be argued that it is implicit that any ICT infrastructure, services and goods required for essential services to be rendered and for essential goods to be produced will fall within the category of essential goods and services. This is unfortunately open to interpretation as it is not explicit, and a case-by-case assessment would need to be undertaken by businesses.
Written by Ridwaan Boda, Technology, Media and Telecommunications, Director; Wilmari Strachan, Technology, Media and Telecommunications, Director; ENSafrica