By Jonathan Walsh
By Jonathan Walsh
Rabat – Moroccans are being deprived of their basic right to communicate. As a country with aspirations of modernization and growth, the ability to connect and share both professionally and socially is an incredible tool that should be utilized.
Nevertheless, the National Telecommunication Regulatory Agency (ANRT)—the company that currently holds the rights to national telecommunication—has banned the use of VoIP services (Whatsapp, Skype, Viber) in Morocco, presumably due to the perceived negative impact that they have on the market.
From one perspective, this is totally understandable. ANRT has pointed out that it has the right to do this: it holds the contracts, which it then sells to the companies that consumers use (Maroc Telecom, Meditel and INWI). It wants to protect and promote the industry; it is, after all, what it was created to do.
The problem here is that ANRT acts as if this is its sole purpose. Even the name of the organization points to the fact that it is there to regulate and aid communication. People are not happy with what the three companies currently provide, and so have chosen VoIP alternatives. Blocking those alternatives is not so much regulation as it is ignoring a failure in their own ability to sustain themselves in a free market.
Following the backlash to the ban, which manifested itself in boycotts at the Maroc Web Awards and a campaign to ‘unlike’ the three company’s pages on Facebook, both Meditel and INWI distanced themselves from the decision.
In separate statements, they insisted that it was not their choice to ban the VoIP services and that they do not lose anything if people choose to use the internet based services alongside their own.
ANRT seems to be comfortable in completely ignoring the wider responsibilities that it holds. As I have already said, communication helps improve the economic and social standards of a country. Moroccans obviously do not feel that the services provided to them by telecom companies are good enough. Users constantly complain of poor signal and a generally expensive service, so for them, the decision to use VoIP is obvious.
Another crucial misunderstanding is that ANRT does not provide the same function as VoIP, whose services range much wider than basic telecommunications within Morocco. To deny businesses and entrepreneurs the ability to contact people from all over the world immediately makes their lives more difficult. Morocco needs to appear appealing for all sorts of investors and business partners; the inability to communicate will make many potential deals less feasible.
On a social level, too, there are an estimated four and a half million Moroccans living abroad, all presumably with families still living here. We saw one example of this earlier this week, when a young British-Moroccan girl sent a message to King Mohammed VI asking for the ability to talk to her grandparents again via Skype. This was not one isolated situation: ANRT is responsible for denying these people the ability to communicate, which is against their basic human rights.
The Moroccan people are angry, and they should be. ANRT was established in 1998 to oversee a telecommunications market that is drastically different from the one we see today. Its creation did not take into account the usage of internet-based communication like VoIP. The current system is simply outdated and needs to be modernized in order to allow Morocco to connect with the wider world.
ANRT needs to be more transparent and engage directly with the Moroccan people. If its purpose is to aid communication in the country, then it has blatantly failed at that. Instead, what they have achieved is to create a market of insufficient mobile providers, to restrict services that those providers do not succeed in maintaining, to starve businesses of the access to communication services that they need to survive, and, most damning of all, to fundamentally neglect the people they are supposed to serve.
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