VOIP ban angers Moroccan telecom users
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.