Monday, October 24, 2016

Morocco Withdraws Unpopular VoIP Blocking

Right from the beginning of the ban by Morocco's National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ARNT) of VoIP services such as WhatsApp and Skype, it was clear that it was a ban that couldn't be sustained in the face of public anger. Then, when it was disclosed that the Kingdom had lost at least 320 million dollars (see our story here) due to the ban, the ARNT reversed the blocking. However, instead of publishing an apology or even a simple press release, the ban was quietly reversed. But is it only a temporary lifting?

As Morocco World News reported, the ban was instituted in January on the grounds that free IP-based calling services weren’t licensed to operate as telecom entities in Morocco. The ARNT's’s undisclosed turnaround comes after disgruntled Moroccans expressed their disapproval of the decision, launching campaigns calling on citizens to boycott the three main Moroccan telecommunications agencies: Maroc Telecom, Meditel and INWI. One Moroccan national even went to court to battle the ARNT’s authority to ban these services.

Observers say that the thousands of Moroccans who resorted to VPNs (virtual private networks) to avoid the ARNT’s restriction should not ditch them just yet.

Despite the campaigns by Moroccan citizens and international criticism, some presume that the ban was temporarily lifted as a result of the fast-approaching COP 22 conference taking place in Marrakech in November, and may even be reinstated after the conference ends. COP 22 proceedings will draw government officials, representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and media personnel to the kingdom, many of whom will be relying on VoIP services.

The other scenario is that the ARNT management has been damaged by the ineptitude of their handling of the issue. If so, as one Moroccan commentator put it "there may well be a reshuffling of the deck chairs".


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