Vodacom to zero-rate Facebook access

Vodacom is offering its customers free access to a data-light version of Facebook, the mobile operator said on Tuesday.

Facebook Flex, the first of a number of products Vodacom plans to launch under its new Siyakha platform, offers zero-rated access to a basic version of Facebook, which excludes photos and videos.

Once signed up to the service, Vodacom customers can update their Facebook status and comment on posts even when they do not have data, the company said.

“Should users wish to view pictures or videos, they can easily switch from the free version to ‘data mode’ to access the full Facebook service,” it said.

Moves to offer free Facebook access in some other markets, including India, have, however, proved controversial. There are network neutrality provisions in the South African government’s national integrated ICT policy white paper that may have a direct bearing on services such as Facebook Flex.

Vodacom chief officer for consumer business Nyimpini Mabunda said the Siyakha platform on which Facebook Flex has been launched is an “important part” of its “effort to ensure digital inclusion for all its customers”.

“Network operators like ourselves have a role to play in reducing the digital divide, particularly between those in urban and rural areas. In all our efforts, we are mindful of the immense pressures that consumers face, which are largely associated with the cost to communicate.”

“The popularity and the extensive use of social media services such as Facebook as a means of communication has made it a necessity rather than a luxury,” said Mabunda.

The cost of data communications in South Africa came under the spotlight in 2016 when parliament held hearings into the matter. Operators came under the spotlight as consumer activists and politicians questioned whether South Africans were paying too much for Internet access.

Siyakha will offer zero-rated and lower priced products and services to the emerging prepaid segment of Vodacom’s customer base, the company explained.

This includes a range of Vodacom insurance products, free health content from the TV series Hello Doctor as well as Vodacom’s infotainment platform Video Play. Siyakha will house Vodacom’s existing educational portals and careers and jobs websites.

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