Chicago – In a very sudden and unexpected, yet irrational and backward step, Moroccan telecommunication companies Maroc Telecom, Meditel, and Inwi cut Morocco’s Voice over IP (VoIP) services without any notice to their clients. Legally, they can. Since the Moroccan Telecommunication Law grants the rights to VoIP services only to companies holding a license to operate in the country. For now, only those three companies hold that right.
According to article 1 of the decision ANRT/DG/ 04-04 of April 6, 2004, written in French, the colonial and unofficial language of Morocco, “only companies holding a license can operate VoIP services in the kingdom”. This grants the right to Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi to deny 34 million Moroccans and businesses this service.
Now could this decision have serious political, social and economic ramification on Morocco? How does it hurt small and medium businesses and how does it affect Morocco’s competitiveness on the global scale? How does this decision affect average low-income Moroccans while having no impact on large companies who will continue to use these services via a VPN? Will this decision help Morocco’s over-saturated telecommunication market in attracting new investments in telecommunication? Or is it a warning sign for investors about the unstable business climate Morocco is going through?
How does it affect Morocco’s competitiveness?
A country’s competitiveness is determined by many factors: one of them is the ability of its citizens and businesses to communicate freely without any restrictions. Even the most “greedy” capitalist systems in the advanced industrialized world grants free and open communication to all, especially when it comes to VoIP (USA, Canada, France…).
In these “greedy capitalist societies,” operators have a better service at a cheaper rate while offer VoIP free of charge to their clients. Morocco’s operators barely embraced 4G, with a mediocre infrastructure and very slow internet. They offer their services at a higher rate when compared to other operators around the world. Now they even cut the affordable services that allow people to communicate with each other. The decision made by the three companies reminds us of the behavior of some totalitarian regimes such as (Iran, Syria, and N. Korea), which restrict free and open communication using different methods.
Canceling VoIP services affects Morocco’s competitiveness as a small to medium business destination as well. For many small to medium businesses, VoIP is an affordable way to do business and communicate with their satellite and virtual offices who might be located in Morocco. Many US and European small businesses started opening subsidiaries in Morocco; they use services like FaceTime, Skype, Viber and What’s up to run operations across the Mediterranean or the Atlantic. This decision will definitely affect their overhead, and deter future small to medium businesses from investing in Morocco… a country without Skype.
How this decision affects low-income citizens but not large companies
While this decision might have come as a last resort for Morocco’s telecommunication companies to maximize their already high profit margins, it directly affects low-income Moroccan citizens. As many Moroccans cannot afford to pay the phone bill, they resort to using affordable VoIP services to communicate with their families and loved ones. They do not use it for free, as they are required to have a 3G /4G phone with paid data services or connected to a WIFI internet connection.
This decision deprives a great portion of the Moroccan society of its basic right of communicating. Morocco’s construction and agricultural sectors, which employ over 50% of Moroccans are facing hard time. Most of people working in these sectors cannot afford to pay the high phone bills, and were relying on these affordable services to communicate with their families and loved ones.
Conversely, this decision does not affect large companies who might be abusing the networks and slowing them down. This includes some call centers that use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), a technique that tricks the operator into thinking that the IP address is not local, to bypass the operators’ restrictions.
While the decision of blocking all VoIP services in Morocco might bring some financial benefit to the Moroccan operators by bringing the paid call time to its historic pre-internet levels, it sends alarming signals to the global business community that Morocco is taking a step-backward into the dark ages of no or low-communication.
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