The Jamaican government has partnered with local operators Digicel and Flow to provide zero-rated access to all the government’s websites, according to a news report that cited technology minister Andrew Wheatley. Under the terms of the deal, consumers can access a total of 256 sites without incurring any data charges. The sites include critical government services offered by state agencies such as the Registrar General’s Department; the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency; and Tax Administration Jamaica. The minister stated that students will also have 24/7 access to educational material hosted on the website of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, complementing the government’s Tablets in Schools project.
Zero-rating—in markets where regulators permit it—can have the effect of driving revenue, by promoting services that will eventually be charged for. It can also strengthen an operator’s brand, even if there is no direct revenue opportunity. While brand-bolstering usually involves partnering with popular entertainment content providers, partnering with the public sector can also be advantageous to operators. Digicel and Flow, by offering Jamaicans free mobile access to important government services and information sources, as well as educational materials, are likely to boost satisfaction levels among their subscribers while strengthening their image as public-spirited companies.
In addition, since government sites, unlike the popular streaming music, video and gaming services, do not consume a great deal of data, this zero-rating is unlikely to cost the operators very much. As a result, we consider this public-private partnership to be a win-win deal.