It was late in the evening of Monday July 25 that Maroc Telecom published a press release. The information, laconic, was intended to inform the general public that the National Telecoms Regulatory Agency (ANRT), had just sanctioned it with a heavy fine, by inflicting on it a record amount of penalty payments of 2, 45 billion dirhams. An amount which comes on top of the 3.3 billion dirhams already paid in January 2020 for “abuse of a dominant position” in the market for fixed telecom services.
A penalty payment which proves first of all that the sector’s governance body, the ANRT and its management committee, demonstrates its firm will through actions to apply the law, even when it is a company as powerful as Maroc Telecom, in which the Moroccan State continues to hold a significant stake, and therefore can influence its governance bodies.
The decision is salutary, because it concerns a subject that affects all Internet users in Morocco. Indeed, if the Internet penetration rate in Morocco increased from 83% to 93% between 2020 and 2021, to reach a total of 33.86 million subscribers, all technologies combined, that of the fixed Internet hardly exceeds 5.6%, with less than 2 million active lines. This situation is explained by Maroc Telecom’s categorical refusal to allow its competitors to use its fixed infrastructures, so that they can develop fixed Internet offers without having to create infrastructures themselves, including Maroc Telecom inherited the former monopoly from which this telecom operator came – the PTT.
Worse still, the number of fixed Internet lines in Morocco in 2022 is still lower than the number of fixed lines Morocco had at the end of the 1990s, when the sector was opened up to competition. However, Morocco has built a lot over the past twenty years. The stock of new housing should be around 3 to 4 million units, all equipped with infrastructure by developers and handed over free of charge to the incumbent operator. Thus, the potential market of households eligible for fixed Internet should be around five million. All of these households have been deprived of access to the fixed Internet, for the simple reason that Maroc Telecom has decided to maintain its monopoly on this market, thus depriving millions of households of a service which has nevertheless become a convenience for base. It is this situation that has made the success of the Internet access boxes developed by Maroc Telecom’s competitors, and which have a total of nearly one million customers.
“Mobile technologies remain much more expensive with performances that cannot match those of the fixed”, underlines an expert ès-telecom who requested anonymity. But Maroc Telecom doubly finds its account in this situation. “It manages the scarcity of fixed services by making an annuity, adds the same source, while exhausting the investment capacities of its competitors, forcing them to devote all their resources to the development of mobile networks alone”. But who cares, as long as Maroc Telecom continues to post financial results that have no equivalent in the telecom sector worldwide.
In view of all of these elements, the regulator is a thousand times right to sanction Maroc Telecom. Moreover, the seriousness of the situation even requires regular monitoring, in order to punish this incumbent operator as it should, and according to the terms of the law, until its top management complies and finally agrees to open the fixed, so that consumers can finally have access to fixed Internet in free competition, and which would meet their needs.
Some voices are also raised to support the idea of creating a neutral infrastructure operator, capable of solving the problem of fixed Internet access. “This new crisis is an opportunity that reinforces the scenario (studied by the ANRT) of creating a national telecom infrastructure operator, which would fulfill the role of the missing link in the telecom ecosystem in Morocco. The ANRT must focus on this scenario and accelerate its implementation”, suggested, in a message posted on LinkedIn, Khalid Ziani, IT & Telecoms expert.
“In terms of the budget, the 2.5 billion dirhams in penalties paid by Maroc Telecom to the public treasury should be used to finance this new national telecom infrastructure operator to enable it to accelerate the country’s transition plan to fiber optics and 5G”, he also explained.
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Interviewed by Le360, several seasoned observers of the telecom sector believe that the use of a neutral operator is a false good idea that has been tested in several countries around the world, but which has resulted in costly and ineffective failures.
A simple example can indeed illustrate this point: the ANRT wants five million households to have access to the Internet via fiber optics. However, in all the countries of the world where FTTH has developed, players have started by equipping dense areas. However, precisely, all the dense areas in Morocco have fixed infrastructures administered by Maroc Telecom. Thus, a new operator who comes to deploy new infrastructures in these districts will only duplicate assets at high costs, which can only increase prices for the end consumer.
The solution that has been proven throughout the world is obviously that of enforcing the terms of the law by the incumbent operator, so that consumers, but also public services and businesses, can finally have access to a Quality fixed Internet.
Nevertheless, would Abdeslam Ahizoune, who has presided over the destinies of Maroc Telecom since its creation (or even before), be able, after two fairly heavy financial sanctions representing nearly a year of the company’s net results, to take the measures to even to finally open up the fixed-line market? Le360 interviewed people who know him. Unanimous answer: no. It will therefore most likely be necessary to seek a solution elsewhere.
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