The eventual death of cyber cafés was inevitable. For a relatively brief period of time, as Morocco enthusiastically embraced the Internet, cyber cafés sprung up like mushrooms after rain. They were to be found not only in the large cities, but in many of the smaller towns that were on the popular tourist routes. The View from Fez investigates their decline
For a traveller or a local the Moroccan Internet cafés were an important stopping off place. They were open late and extremely inexpensive with rates of between 4 and 10 dirhams per hour. In many places they were run in conjunction with the "telekiosque" offices. While speeds in some of the rural areas could be a little slow, they were excellent in the north of the country. Most internet cafes also provided printing and CD burning facilities.
But then things began to change. Moroccans quickly adapted to changing technology and once there was good 3G coverage they signed up in huge numbers. There is excellent access to email and the internet via Mobile Phones and it is relatively cheap. There is 3G access throughout the mountains and in the desert, as well as in all cities.
What took place was, in effect a democratisation of the Internet and the downside was the effect on the cyber cafés. Many were forced to either close or adapt. The snowball effect was that with declining numbers of Internet Cafés 3G grew even faster.
Today the Internet café owners say they still but that ... "they connect between 10 and 15 minutes just to download a document or perform a small task".
Mohamed El Fekkah, manager of café in Casablanca says that between 5-7 years ago, Moroccans could spend several hours surfing the internet in a café, Skyping their friends or updating their Facebook pages.
Now many Moroccans, even in relatively poor neighbourhoods have Internet at home. In the street where The View from Fez is located we discovered three neighbours sharing one of our open connections. When this was eventually protected by a password they soon installed their own modems.
The cyber cafe's in Fez are all complaining of lack of customers. The glory days are over. In its annual report in 2012, the National Agency of Telecommunications Regulation (ANRT) showed that of 15.6 million users listed, only 33% connected via an internet cafe, when 74% access it from home. This trend has accelerated during 2013/
The phenomenon is accentuated with the arrival of 3G.For now, statistics on attendance cafes before and after the 3G do not exist. But from the comments of the ANRT on the results of 2012, the "growth of 3G has shifted access to the Internet at home."
In Rabat, the news agency EFE met Mohamed in a café. "I just came to check an address, because I could not do it with my 3G," he has said. This young 23 year old man remembers that seven years ago, he was always in a café because he not have a computer at home. But today, not only does he have a computer, but 3G internet allows it to connect easily.
In Casablanca, Ghita says she is never in a cyber café. "I have a connection at home, the office, and the majority of coffee shops where I go," she says. "So I do not need to go to a cyber café. In addition why pay 10 dirhams per hour, while the ADSL monthly subscription costs less than 100 dirhams?" The young woman also uses 3G, because "it is very useful, especially when there is no wifi in range."
Indeed, the evolution of telecommunication technology to Morocco will accelerate. Having assessed the quality of the 3G internet in Morocco in 2012, the National Agency of Telecommunications Regulation (ANRT) recently regulated Outdoor WiFi to enable its implementation and operation. The goal is to fill the gaps in 3G. Meanwhile, steps are being taken towards the arrival of 4G scheduled for the end of 2013 .
Currently cyber cafés remain successful in the neighbourhoods where to have a computer at home is still a luxury for families. It is in these areas that customers still want to spend hours surfing. But are faced with the problem of how to afford them every day? Moroccan's love affair with technology will continue, but the where and how we log on will continue to evolve.