The Algerian education ministry instructed mobile operators Djezzy, Mobilis and Ooredoo to restrict internet access across the country during the baccalaureate exams, which were held from 13-17 September, costing the government DZD 50 billion (US $387 million), according to a report. The objective was to prevent cheating among pupils. This measure was considered effective by the authorities but has been criticized by consumers, who perceived it as an obstacle to their freedom to communicate and to their economic activities.
For ICT providers, the government’s decision had a negative financial impact. Younes Grar, CEO of Gecos, estimated the financial loss recorded by the internet segment during the period at DZD 50 billion. Ali Kahlane, a consultant in digital transformation and maturation, and also vice-president of the Cercle d’action et de reflexion autour de l’entreprise (CARE), said the financial losses were close to DZD 26 billion (US $201 million). Youcef Boucherim, an international ICT expert, valued the losses at DZD 15 billion (US $116 million).
Algerian consumers called on the government to find another way to secure the school exams. They say the installation of scramblers in examination centers is one such solution.
The Algerian government, understandably concerned about cheating on nationwide academic exams, took a blunt-instrument approach that ended up, it appears, doing more harm than good, and that on more than one front. Because the ubiquity of mobile signals affords a golden opportunity for quickly and surreptitiously looking up answers or communicating with accomplices, disabling it was a tempting option.
While it may well have fulfilled its immediate goal, the measure inflicted what one might justifiably call collateral damage. Significant restrictions on internet access across Algeria, over a four-day period, disrupted not only cheating but commerce, and also caused deep discontentment among the clients of mobile operators, who were unable to use services that they not only paid for but consider essential to their freedom of expression and freedom to pursue a livelihood.
The repercussions for MNOs and ISPs are of course immediate in terms of lost revenue, whatever the actual figure ends up being. In terms of loss of public trust, Djezzy, Mobilis and Ooredoo will likely not be blamed so much as the government, since they were forced to comply, and no one operator will likely suffer more than the others. Still, by intervening in this manner, the government has weakened the standing of the mobile industry in Algeria. It appears to have radically underestimated the importance of continuously accessible mobile data service—a mistake that in this ultra-connected age, no government, mobile operator or regulatory agency should make.