In a decree published on 2 June, the government of Morocco has officially banned VoIP services, on the grounds that they are anti-competitive. The ban comes after a block imposed by the government at the beginning of the year, at the request of the country’s telecom regulator, ANRT. The new decree by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Investment and the Digital Economy says that all telephone traffic cannot be assured unless it is handled by public telecommunication networks recognized by the state. It also gives the regulator the power to stop any activity considered anti-competitive on the telecom market— the decree states that in order to end anti-competition practices, ANRT can approve commitments made by companies or authorities. This means that Morocco’s three mobile operators—Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi—will now be able to proactively block any activity they see as anti-competitive, without having to wait for approval by ANRT.
In terms of the ongoing struggle between MNOs and OTT service providers for the hearts and minds of consumers, Morocco seems like a mobile operator’s dream. The government and the regulator have now taken the side of cellular service against VoIP, not only accepting that the latter harms competition on the mobile marketplace but giving the operators free rein (without first requesting specific approval) to do whatever they need to do to block VoIP services on their data networks. Here is a country where issues of net neutrality do not even come into the equation.
Operators in many markets have long claimed that OTTs not only deprive them of revenues by undercutting them on price, but that they also unfairly profit from networks built by the operators without giving anything in return. Some have argued that MNOs should band together to defend their rights; for example, last year we reported that operators in the U.K. lobbied the regulator, Ofcom, urging it to apply the same regulatory standards to OTTs that it does to MNOs. The Moroccan government has gone one big step further, acting on the belief that the mere presence of VoIP service in the telecom space constitutes an unfair competitive practice.
But would it really be a dream come true if all countries emulated Morocco? Not likely. In a small, developing market like this one, where budgetary concerns are very important for consumers, the telecom sector may need such aggressive protection; in more developed economies, this level of control over the internet would only put a damper on data, which is now a much more important source of revenue for operators than voice calling. On the one hand, an open internet fosters greater data consumption, while on the other hand, mobile operators in most markets have already accepted the inevitable presence of VoIP apps and are even creating their own versions.