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The three main Moroccan telecom operators Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi colluded in early January 2016 to ban “Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services of 3G and 4G mobile subscribers (Abisourour, 2016). This move dismayed their 44 million customers of one of the fastest growing markets in their region; in early 2015, Morocco’s mobile market approached 135% penetration (BuddComm, no date), which inevitably caught the attention of foreign investors in the telecom market.
Not only does the recent decision to ban VOIP in Morocco limit the free flow of communication exchange, but it also affects consumer trust in the domestic telecom operators. Knowing the limited purchase capacity of the Moroccan consumer as minimum wage stands at USD288 (The Economist 2014), VOIP services catered for low-income households to communicate with their families abroad and locally. Over 4 million Moroccan immigrants (Al Andaloussi, 2014) rely on these services to maintain ties with their home country and it is now almost impossible for them to maintain regular contact since the cost of calls from and towards Morocco are still exorbitant.
The decision to ban VOIP in Morocco applies a resolution of the national regulator (ANRT) dating back to 2004 (ANRT, 2004), which was specific to exploiting the domestic telecom infrastructure to perform calls without a valid license. It was relevant to international call centres who moved their operations to Morocco due to the favourable incentives provided by the government, which primarily encouraged foreign investments with the aim to boost the job market. Some of these call centres opted for calls over Internet Protocol and did not use the telecom infrastructure to cut their costs. Consequently, telecom operators incurred considerable unplanned financial losses.
Media coverage on this issue supports the theory of a regional trend prohibiting VOIP. However, Egypt, for instance, effectively began clamping down on services, such as Skype, in 2010 (International Travel News, 2010). This suggests that these moves do not necessarily define a specific trend in the Arab region as far government regulation is concerned, but rather a desperate attempt to maintain the profitability of telecom operators in these markets. It is commonly argued that the Internet has made the current business model of telecoms operators in the Arab region obsolete. To some extent, the issue also lies with operators not adjusting to the open and free nature of the Internet, and the lack of national strategies to foster a digital economy, which places the availability and neutrality of the networks at the core of its mandate.
Morocco’s digital natives made the Internet their platform to protest against this decision. Several Facebook campaign pages were created to condemn hindering
Consumers’ freedoms. Critics and rights groups slammed the absence of “rights approach” by the Moroccan government, which reinforces inherent rights such as access to information, freedom of expression, network neutrality and free flow of information. In reality, do consumer rights even matter in Morocco?
It is crucial to define the socio-economic value of services such as VOIP to the end consumer and the domestic market since the human rights discourse does not appeal to decision makers in Morocco and elsewhere in the region. The “dislike" campaign of the three main operators was not taken seriously when thousands of Moroccan Facebookers voiced their outrage about VOIP ban. Nevertheless, the campaign raised eyebrows when a volunteer programmer managed to monetize the loss incurred by the three operators when fans disliked their page. It is a great move but it is extremely challenging to predict if public pressure will contribute to overturning the decision.
It is difficult to confirm if banning VOIP services will improve telecoms profitability, nor is it possible to state it will affect the economic sector in Morocco. To date, there is no specific research, which assesses the impact of VOIP services on the economy. However, it is safe to assume that it reduces the burden of communications costs and increases efficiency. On the other hand, it provides greater choice to the end consumer.
The current restrictive regulation on services like VOIP hampers customer choice, which leads to a less competitive environment, and worse price/performance of the telecom sector. Arbitrary policies are a buzz killer to innovation and creativity; internet proved to be a unique platform in all aspects. However, government control, especially in less democratic regimes, is restrictive by nature. New technologies are subject to outdated existing regulation and non-participatory; a progressive approach dealing with applications such as VOIP is necessary to define robust mechanisms, which support public interest.
Abisourour M (2016) Moroccan Telecom Providers Block Use of Whatsapp, Viber and Skype. Morocco News, 5 January. Available at http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2016/01/176863/moroccan-telecom-pro... [accessed 23 March 2016].
BuddeComm. (No Date) Mobile Infrastructure, Operators and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses. Available at http://www.budde.com.au/Research/Morocco-Mobile-Infrastructure-Oper... [accessed 23 March 2016].
ANRT (2004) Décision du directeur général de 1 'Agence nationale de réglementation des télécommunications no 04-04 du 15 safar 1425 (6 avril2004) relative au statut de la téléphonie sur IP. Available at https://www.anrt.ma/sites/default/files/documentation/2004-04-04-te... [accessed 23 March 2016].
International Travel News (2010) Egypt Ban VOIP Calls, May 2010, Page 62. Available at https://www.intltravelnews.com/2010/05/egypt-bans-voip-calls [accessed 23 March 2016].