Morocco has passed a new law requiring fair competition and transparency in telecommunications. But will authorities punish Maroc Telecom’s market-monopolizing practices?
Rabat – Morocco has recently passed a new law to safeguard competition in the telecommunications sector.
Law 121.12, which was published on Monday in Morocco’s national gazette, is set to bring transparency and improve competitiveness in the sector. The move is also implicitly part of a broader focus on attracting more investors and business ventures to the North African country.
The law identified three primary axes to improve both customer and competitors’ experience of the Moroccan market of telecommunications.
The first axis is to uphold “complete transparency.” The objective is to “inform and protect consumers,” according to the legal text.
The second axis has to do with mechanisms and “tools to reinforce regulation and competition.” The move entails authorities’ concerns about the state of expertise, experience, and infrastructure sharing among competing telecom firms.
Under title 2 of the law, authorities especially hope to reinforce the practice of national roaming, an agreement among competing operators to use each other’s networks and provide services in geographical areas where they normally have no coverage.
The final and perhaps most critical disposition of the new law is that it increases the discharging and regulatory powers of the National Agency for the Legalization of Communications (ANRT).
Before this law, ANRT did not have complete regulatory powers.
If ANRT received complaints about anti-competition practices, it had to open a legal process, which could take months or years of trial.
With the new law, however, ARNT can directly punish a cheating or monopolizing company.
What about Maroc Telecom?
Since the law was made public, there has been one recurring question: Will ANRT take drastic measures against Maroc Telecom?
As the oldest and main telecom operator in Morocco, the partially state-owned Maroc Telecom remains by far Morocco’s most widely-used operator.
The company’s history, having emerged from decades of government postal and telephone services, means that it has control over longtime infrastructure. As a result, its coverage capacity and quality is far above that of its two competitors, Orange and Inwi.
Orange and Inwi have repeatedly complained about Maroc Telecom’s “anti-competition practices” over the years. The two companies have on many occasions filed complaints with ANRT, decrying Maroc Telecom’s refusal to comply with the national roaming policy.
Having inherited enormous infrastructure from the Moroccan state, Maroc Telecom refuses to share infrastructure to maintain dominance over the country’s telecom market, the two companies argue.
In March 2018, Inwi filed a complaint against Maroc Telecom. Inwi cited “unfair competition” resulting from Maroc Telecom’s “non-compliance with regulatory provisions related to the sharing of infrastructure.” The company claimed MAD 5.7 billion in damages and interest.
But the case languished in courts. And while some were quick to criticize ANRT’s “indifference to and protection of Maroc Telecom’s monopolizing tendencies,” the regulatory body had an excuse.
ANRT could hide behind the fact that it was not the ultimate deciding body and that court cases in such contexts tended to be decided over long periods of judicial process.
Under the new law, however, there is no need to resort to court cases. The body can directly punish a telecom operator if it receives “justified” complaints about refusal to comply with fair-competition practices.
Punishment can be 2-5 percent of the offending operator’s total revenue.
With its new capacity to regulate and punish, it will only take months to discover the cause of ANRT’s past inaction.
Was ANRT complicit in Maroc Telecom’s domineering grip on Morocco or did it actually lack the power to guarantee transparency and fair competition?