Thursday, October 20, 2016

Morocco Pays the Price for VOIP Blocking

The Moroccan economy has lost $320 million as a direct result of the government’s decision made in January of this year to restrict VoIP service. The revelation is part of a new report by the American Centre for Technological Innovation at the Brookings Institution

Blocking calls via VoIP (Voice over IP) was instituted in early January by the national telecommunications networks Agency (ANRT). The telecom watchdog had justified the decision by explaining that "the delivery of all telephone traffic to the end customer can be assured by public telecommunications network operators. (...) The regulatory provisions governing the provision of telephony services (VoIP or other) are clear and those services can be provided only by holders of telecommunications licenses operators ".

Unsurprisingly the blockage had caused an outcry, many users highlighting the negative impacts for those wishing to join their families abroad, or for entrepreneurs who work remotely or with international clients and who used to use these applications to move their business calls cheaply.

This latest, study conducted by the director of the Centre for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, a think -tank based in Washington, justifies the public anger by showing just how much the country has lost.

In the report, Darrell M. West, founding director of the Washington DC-based nonprofit public policy organisation and the report’s writer, analyses the worldwide economic loss due to internet shutdowns in certain countries. West estimates the total loss of revenue at $2.4 billion last year, alone.

According to reports in The Huffington Post and Morocco World News, the author of the study says that he took into consideration the size of the country's GDP (based on 2016 projections of the Boston Consulting Group), the duration of the disturbance (182 days in the case of Morocco or the first six months of blocking), and percentage of the population affected by this cut. He also examined whether blocking concerned the entire Internet, only the mobile internet, or specific applications and services such as social media, research platforms, video or messaging. He also compiled information on the rate of subscription to a mobile subscription in each country.

In looking at the economic impact of blocking specific applications and services, the author relied on a study by two economists from MIT in 2013 on the use of free services like Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp Wikipedia in the United States, and found that the use of these applications was a contribution of 0.23% to the national GDP.

"Since these services have increased significantly since 2013, the impact could well be higher in today's economy," said the author of the study.

While the UN adopted, in July, a resolution condemning the restrictions on access to information on the internet and calling to guarantee the human rights online, the author of the study believes that the partial or total blockage of the internet or certain services "separates people from their families, their friends, and their livelihoods, undermines economic growth, hindering the start-up ecosystem, threatens stability social interrupting economic activity."

According to the same report, the economy most affected is India’s with $968 million lost, followed by Saudi Arabia with $465 million, Morocco with $320 million, Iraq with $209 million, and the Republic of the Congo $72 million in estimated losses.

While Moroccans continue to express their dismay at the decision and have launched a campaign calling on citizens to boycott the three main telecommunications triumvirate of Morocco including Maroc Telecom, Meditel, and INWI, a majority have turned to Virtual Private Networks which avoid the blocking.

The Administrative Court of Rabat held a hearing on Tuesday into a case filed by a Moroccan citizen against ANRT’s decision to restrict the use of VoIP.


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