April 13, 2020

COVID-19: Measures Supporting Mobile Users and Telecommunication Networks in Mexico

Holland & Knight Alert
Luis Rubio Barnetche | Octavio Lecona

The Minister of Health (Secretaría de Salud) on March 31, 2020, published in the Federal Official Gazette [Diario Oficial de la Federación (DOF)] the “Acuerdo por el que se establecen acciones extraordinarias para atender la emergencia sanitaria generada por el virus SARS-CoV2,” which orders the immediate suspension, until April 30, 2020, of activities considered non-essential. According to the official communication, telecommunication services (no mention was expressly made of broadcasting services) are considered essential services, so telecommunication operators must continue their work during the health emergency period, while observing the relevant health measures. Inexplicably, this agreement did not consider telecommunications infrastructure as critical, which implies that activities for its conservation, maintenance and repair were not considered essential.

In this context, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications [Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT)], on one hand, as well as the Minister of Communications and Transportation [Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT)] and the Minister of the Interior [Secretaría de Gobernación (SEGOB), on the other, have coordinated and proposed various measures with the purpose of maintaining the continuity of such services during the health emergency.

Measures coordinated by the IFT

On April 6, 2020, the IFT and mobile telecommunications concessionaires (i.e., AT&T, Movistar and Telcel) announced several measures to support their respective users during the health emergency, including the following:

  • If needed, users of prepaid mobile services may, on a single occasion, enable a free emergency plan with at least 100 minutes for domestic calls and 150 SMS messages and may continue to receive free calls and SMS messages. This plan may be activated remotely via telephone or SMS.
  • Depending on the operator, some users of post-paid mobile services will be able to migrate temporarily and without penalties, to preferential pricing plans during the health contingency.
  • Calls to emergency services such as 911 and the federal government's COVID-19 customer service line (800 00 44 800) continue free of charge.
  • Individuals may browse without cost on the government's website.
  • The Secretaría de Salud (Minister of Health) is providing free access to the mobile application COVID-19MX.
  • Depending on the operator, free access to educational and cultural sites may be provided.

Unfortunately, similar telecommunications and internet measures in support of the millions of people who continue to work or study from home have not yet been announced.

Mobile operators are remotely supporting clients in relation to balance charges, bill payments and device purchases. Some will be offering support programs to relax data limits and/or fair use policies at no extra charge.

The IFT has created a microsite that details the support measures listed above and also provides recommendations for the responsible use of telecommunication networks in order not to overwhelm them.

Measures proposed by the SCT and SEGOB

As of April 2, 2020, the SCT and SEGOB sent to state governments an official communication in which they highlight the importance of having the support of state and municipal authorities to ensure the continuity of telecommunications and broadcasting services, as well as their operations in optimal conditions during the health contingency period.

The proposed measures are the following:

  • Authorize the use of primary and secondary public roads during the execution of necessary work on existing infrastructure for replacement, preventive, corrective or emergent maintenance
  • Authorize the activity of crews performing such work on public roads, towers, poles or underground facilities, allow their transportation and, where appropriate, provide them security during such works
  • Allow the installation of infrastructure in hospitals, homes, businesses, shops, data centers, contact and support centers and government buildings
  • Allow the operation of customer centers that guarantee the operation and provision of services, as well as call centers and warehouses
  • Allow the operation of high-tech manufacturing companies that supply equipment, parts and spare parts to the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors

Additionally, during the health emergency, the volume of cyberattacks and frauds has increased. Therefore, it is essential that companies and their employees, along with users, take the necessary cybersecurity measures to avoid compromising confidential information or personal data.

Holland & Knight attorneys have extensive experience in matters related to the telecommunications and cyber security sectors. For more information, contact the authors or Holland & Knight's Mexico City office.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and that the subject matter discussed in these publications may change on a daily basis. Please contact your responsible Holland & Knight lawyer or the authors of this alert for timely advice.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.

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