On March 30, 2020, the General Health Council declared a health emergency on account of a force majeure event derived from the epidemic created by the disease caused by SARS-CoV2 virus (COVID-19).
So, on March 31, the Federal Official Gazette (FOG) published the Agreement to establish extraordinary actions to handle the health emergency created by the SARS-CoV2 virus to establish measures, such as the immediate suspension of non-essential activities up to April 30, 2020, in order to mitigate the dispersion and transmission for COVID-19 within the community.
Moreover, the same agreement establishes that only some essential activities can continue operating, such as telecommunications and information media.
In that regard, by express provision, telecommunications are essential activities regarding the COVID-19 health emergency; however, we cannot forget that, derived from the Constitutional Reform in Telecommunications Matters, issued on June 11, 2013, and published in the FOG, the telecommunications were elevated to constitutional rank as a public service of general interest.
It is precisely following these ideas that the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) has acted upon to ensure the telecommunication service continuity in emergency cases.
Although pandemic of such characteristics is indeed unprecedented at the global adverse levels for any industry, including telecommunications; Mexico had indeed experienced the AH1N1 virus pandemic in 2009 when the now extinct Federal Telecommunications Commission was in function.
However, a question arises on which is the legal framework foreseen for telecommunications in these scenarios. One of the answers on this matter is that, above everything, a pandemic is an emergency. In this sense, the IFT published the Communication Reaction Plan for Emergency Situations on December 2017, to facilitate the licensee coordination with the authorities to assist the efficient functioning of the services prior, during, and after perturbing phenomenon, whether natural (such as geological, hydrometeorological, or astronomical) or anthropic (such as chemical-technologies or sanitary-ecological) within national territory.
Moreover, the pandemic caused by COVID-19 fits into a sanitary phenomenon since its an event created by a pathogenic action of biological agents attacking the population, causing death or health disturbance, as established in the General Law on Civil Protection.
Furthermore, it is necessary to review the Federal Law on Telecommunications and Broadcasting, which establishes the obligations in of security and justice matters; specifically Article 190, which established that telecommunications licensees and authorized parties, if applicable, must prioritize communications related to emergency situations in the terms defined by the IFT together with the relevant institutions and authorities.
In this regard, other actions performed by the Ministry of Government (SEGOB) and the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) result relevant. Such is the case of the official communication through which support from state and municipal authorities has been requested for granting permits and authorizations for the installation, operation, and maintenance of telecommunications infrastructure.
It has been stated that telecommunications are an essential activity. Thanks to that, the joint action made by SEGOB and the SCT details the measures for telecommunications networks to function in optimal conditions during COVID-19 emergency contingency period.
Finally, its important to highlight that, within the IFT actions to address COVID-19, the spreading of information materials regarding the responsible use of the telecommunication networks has been established with recommendations to prevent said networks from saturating in light of the foreseen increase of service usage; as well as agreements with the industry to coordinate with mobile telecommunications providers the free SMS provision so that the users of this service have access to notices, recommendations, and other up-to-date data on COVID-19.
In conclusion, throughout the plans and actions established by the existing legal framework, as well as the previous experience facing the AH1N1, we can see Mexico is reacting to this health emergency with a coordinated ecosystem, both from the authorities and the telecommunications industry.