VOIP ban angers Moroccan telecom users

Friday 12/02/2016

Casablanca - “I can’t call my family and friends in France on Skype with both the 3G and 4G connections,” fumed Aziz Bounou as he drank tea in a café in Casablanca. “This is outra­geous and pure greed of telecom op­erators.”
Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi, the three telecommunication ser­vice providers in Morocco, banned from January 1st free calls made through mobile internet connec­tions. The ban covers applications such as Skype, Viber, Facebook Mes­senger and WhatsApp.
Morocco’s Telecommunications Regulatory National Agency (ANRT) defended the telecom providers’ move saying that none of the ser­vices providing Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) or other “free inter­net calls” had the required licences.
The decision sparked strong con­demnation from the opposition Con­stitutional Union and an outcry from VOIP users.
In a January 15th statement, the Constitutional Union said the move “operates against all good techno­logical sense” and questioned its legality.
This restriction is “an obstacle to freedom of communication”, the statement said, and harmed many start-ups, companies and techno­logical creators, at a time when en­trepreneurship, especially in new technologies, is a potential pathway to the creation of thousands of jobs and added value.
With none of the parties of the ma­jority cabinet criticising the move, ANRT’s decision seems to be backed by the Islamist-led government.
Nabil Benabdallah, minister of Habitat and leader of the Party of Progress and Socialism, told news outlet Telquel.ma: “On a strictly personal basis, I find that unfortu­nate, but as a party leader, I have not studied the issue enough to be able to comment. We do not have all the elements to take a position.”
Moroccans heavily use VOIP to call abroad, a reason that may have pushed telecom providers to block the services in order to boost rev­enues amid saturation in the local phone call sector.
“It’s a very bad omen for Morocco. We are in an era where everything is open,” said Mehdi Alaoui, founder of Screendy. “It was just a matter of time for telecom providers to block VOIP because they make less mon­ey.”
In Brussels, taxi driver Salim said the ban angered him.
“I regularly call my mother in Mo­rocco on Viber. Now, with the ban, I have to buy an international phone card every time I need to call her be­cause she doesn’t have an ADSL con­nection at home,” said the 48-year-old Moroccan.
“This is a sheer greed of telecom providers who only think about mak­ing huge profits at the expense of their ‘abused’ customers,” he added. Start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and contractors working with foreign countries are likely to be hit the hardest as most of them rely on VOIP services. Con­sequently, foreign exchange inflows will decrease due to a fall in the revenues of start-ups and SMEs.
“Banning VOIP services is just breaking an entrepreneurial dy­namic,” said Alaoui, adding that pro­viders are tarnishing their image in the market.Foreign investors might reconsider investment in such com­panies with their communication environments restricted.
While the move is legal, Moroc­cans protested on social media and called for a boycott of the telecom providers.
“@meditel @inwi & @Maroc_Tele­com Are now blocking VOIP services including Skype. Welcome to 2016 the year Net Neutrality died in Mo­rocco,” tweeted Hassan Dibani.
“On December 17, WhatsApp was blocked by Brazil, Mark Zuckerberg intervened to unblock the situ­ation. I believe that if we man­age to make our voices heard to Mark, there will surely be some support from him! What do you think?” asked Amine Touati on a Facebook group called Unblock VOIP in Morocco! It has more than 2,400 members.
Petitions to restore access to VOIP services were launched to pressure the government to act.
The National Campaign to De­mand the Abolition of VOIP Service Ban petition, which was launched on January 6th on ipetitions.com, has more than 10,600 signatures.