Towards a national telecommunications strategy in Morocco
First Monday

Towards a national telecommunications strategy in Morocco

Abstract
Towards a national telecommunications strategy in Morocco by Mohammed Ibahrine

This article analyses the dynamics and transformations of Moroccan telecommunications within the context of globalisation and technological advancement in the late 1990s. The Moroccan government developed an electronic strategy, known as the E–Morocco, to bring the country into an information–based society. This article examines recent innovative policies on issues of liberal institutional environment, telecommunications infrastructure, IT education and training, e–commerce applications and electronic governance, in order to explore the national telecommunications strategy and to track Moroccan entrance into an era of the network society.

Contents

Introduction
A brief history of telecommunications in Morocco
The government and ICTs’ policy
Telecommunications infrastructures
National strategy: E–Morocco
Conclusion

 


 

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Introduction

In the late 1990s, Morocco’s telecommunications sector underwent major structural transformations. To remain on the cutting edge of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and thus to be globally competitive, the Moroccan government has thrust ICTs into the forefront of national socio–economic development. This includes institutional reform and genuine telecommunications policies. It has allocated a substantial amount of the budget to improve and promote the progress of ICTs throughout the country, through upgrading and expanding the telecommunications infrastructure as well as by popularising the use of the ICTs in the various sectors of Moroccan society.

Within the context of globalisation and technological advancements, liberalisation and privatisation programmes have also been launched in Morocco. Some of the changes come in response to a nationwide strategy, known as E–Morocco, developed by the government and which takes place in tandem with global telecommunications transformations. The aim of this essay is to present the most up–to–date overview of the state of the telecommunications infrastructure and the gradual moves toward the rise of a network society in Morocco.

 

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A brief history of telecommunications in Morocco

In order to make sense of recent developments in the telecommunications sector, it is important to have an idea of the way in which they have transformed. Traditionally in Morocco, almost all public telecommunications infrastructures were controlled indirectly by the established political regime and its administrative authorities, which acted as monopolists (El–Yahyaoui, 1995). In Morocco, these were not separate functions until after a reorganization in 1984. "Al–Maktab Al–Watani Lil–barid wa Al–Itissalat," National Office of Post and Telecommunications (NOPT) was created in 1984 as an autonomous public enterprise and was run not by professional managers but by bureaucrats to reduce central government intervention in day–to–day operations [1].

Until the privatising process swept the Moroccan telecommunications sector, telecommunications services had been provided by a state–owned company. Consequently, the market was controlled by the incumbent monopoly carrier NOPT, which provided all telecommunications services including wireless and international long distance. There was an increasing gap between the supply and demand of working telephones along with poor quality and a limited variety of services. Millions of applications waited for telephone lines for up to 80 months. The high cost of telephone services was mainly due to the unproductive personnel employed by the state, many of whom were employed to meet the ends of social problems. However, forms of telecommunications, especially telephones, were viewed as a convenience and luxury for the elite and not as an essential part of the social and economic development (El–Mandjra, 2001).

As in other developing countries, the modernisation and expansion of the telecommunications sector play an important role in Morocco’s economic development. The government realised that Morocco’s economic and social development had been hampered by the lack of a modern telecommunications infrastructure. Under the impact of global trends toward deregulation and privatisation, the Moroccan government believed that the telecommunications sector represented a key element in the growth of Moroccan economy and society.

The development of the government’s main policy in telecommunications can be viewed as a part of the national privatisation program. The modernisation of the telecommunications sector and the upgrade of the telecommunications infrastructure have become top priorities of the previous government’s reform agenda. The liberalisation, that has already been initiated since the mid–1990s, has made almost every type of telecommunications services available in Morocco, initially in urban areas but spreading to the rural areas as well. The policy encourages and assists the set–up of telecommunications infrastructure first by upgrading public telephone booths, ensuring universal access to everyone.

 

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The government and ICTs’ policy

The role of the government

The last two decades have witnessed an unprecedented effort across the world to assemble policy frameworks that will make countries capable of managing their transition into knowledge–based societies (Wilkin, 2001). The pursuit of this policy has also occurred in Morocco. Over the past few years, Morocco has attempted to institutionalise policies to ensure that the country is well positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities that are offered by technological advancements and diffusion, while avoiding the unwanted consequences that might arise from these recent developments.

After the 1997 election, the socialist–led government affirmed its commitment to economic liberalisation and to the integration into the information–based global economy (Hajji, 2002). The Moroccan government has been under tremendous pressure to adapt to the rapid pace of development of new ICTs, global market forces, and the growing demand for telecommunications services. In its engagement to arm itself with institutional and legal framework, the Moroccan government launched a program of telecommunications legal policy reforms. On 7 August 1997 the Moroccan Parliament adopted the Post Office and Telecommunications Act (International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2002). The promulgation of Law 24–96 on post and telecommunications provided Morocco with a modern legal framework. One of the significant results of the new Telecommunications law was the creation of the "Al–Wakala Al–Wataniya Li–taknin Al–Itissalat," National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (NTRA) in March 1998 (ITU, 2002). The chief aim of this autonomous agency is to promote rapid modernisation of the telecommunications systems and services in Morocco through regulation and the maintenance of transparency in tender procedures (ITU, 2002). As a result, the NTRA’s first priority has been to introduce competition into the marketplace. The agency has pursued a competitive telecommunications market policy by focusing on revising legislative authorities.

To further this process the Moroccan government has established in 1997 the Secretary of State for Post Information and Communication Technologies (SSPICT) to the Prime Minister’s office, a body policy whose mission is to bring Morocco into the digital age (Hajji, 2002).

By setting up the NTRA and the SSPICT, the government showed its determination to eliminate its monopoly in telecommunications, permitting competition and ushering in a multitude of new services. Thus, the transition from government–owned telecommunications monopoly to greater competition has been driven by politics and government policies. Law 24–96 separated the post and telecommunications functions, incorporating the telecommunications division as "Itissalat Al–Magreb" (IAM), a joint stock company. IAM operates Morocco’s national network system. The new law recommended ending the monopoly to grant competition that ultimately provides cheaper access and thus more widespread use to the general public.

The government has actively pursued policies to promote open trade with ICTs goods and services as well as to protect the interests of users and consumers of telecommunications services. The objective of Law 24–96 was to establish a telecommunications market that: Avoids domination by one or two key players; supports entrepreneurialism; encourages new entrants and competitors; and, that operates in consumer interest. Private telecommunications companies now compete with the regime–owned enterprise in the established business of mobile telephones. Now, almost all of the technologies relevant to telecommunications, including computer networks, multi–service information infrastructures and the Internet are open for national and international competition in Morocco.

The opening of Morocco’s telecommunications market to competitors took place in compliance with the country’s commitments with the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. With the introduction of competition, new services offered enhanced small and large businesses alike. New regulations have not only introduced new competitors and services but they have also encouraged IAM to improve its own service in order to maintain its "market leader" position.

The government’s telecommunications investment

The movement towards market liberalisation and deregulation in the telecommunications sector has meant growth in investment development. In a bid to transform the country into a new telecommunications powerhouse, the Morocco government has invested heavily in ICTs, providing funding for the development of the telecommunications infrastructure. To date, the government had made a massive investment, nearly 1.2 billion USD, to upgrade and expand telecommunications digital networks (El–Mandjra, 2002). This is about 11.90 USD per capita. For the period 1995–2000, Morocco’s telecommunications investment reached three percent of the GDP (El–Mandjra, 2002).

Increasing privatization and liberalized policies have strongly encouraged numerous multinational firms to conduct business with Morocco. Because Law 24–97 allowed private foreign direct investment with international giants in the field of telecommunications, Microsoft, Nokia and Siemens set up local offices and marketing facilities in Morocco.

The telecommunications sector has witnessed the greatest opportunity to competition and the greatest amount of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With the privatisation of IAM in 1998, the possibility of greater foreign involvement in the telecommunications sector has been greatly increased. FDI in the telecommunications sector amounted to 2.3 billion USD in 1999 or 15 percent of the total foreign investments (NTRA, 2002). For year 2000, the foreign investment in the telecommunications sector rose to 2.7 billion USD. It reached its apogee when Vivendi Universal, a French conglomerate, bought 35 percent of the equity (IAM, 2002).

 

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Telecommunications infrastructures

Like most governments across the world, the Moroccan government has placed a high value on ICTS, since they can secure Morocco’s place in the digital age. Accordingly, the Moroccan telecommunications infrastructure has increased in both quantity and quality. This development is the direct outcome of three major causes: The institutional telecommunications reform process; political democratisation; and, technological advancement.

Fixed telephone

The number of telephone lines in Morocco decreased from 1.47 million to 1.19 million in 2001 (McKinsey & Company, 2002). A decrease of about 19.4 percent in 2001 (NTRA, 2002). With 1.19 million main telephone lines, Morocco belongs to the top five Arab states with telephone lines, ranked after Egypt and Saudi Arabia (IUT). But in 2001 Morocco had a telephone density of only six per one hundred inhabitants (McKinsey & Company, 2002), one of the lowest rankings among the Arab world, with an average teledensity of around eight percent (ITU, 2002). In 2002 the number of fixed phone subscribers was 1.6 million (McKinsey & Company, 2002), or 32 percent of the five million Moroccan households (Rochdi, 2001).

Telephone service is highly concentrated in the Casablanca–Rabat area. By 1999, some Moroccan villages had telephone service and there were 70,000 village telephone lines for about 14 million people (El–Mandjra, 2002). The rural penetration rate is 0.55 percent.

Despite large investments to bolster the telephone line infrastructure, they are still substandard and insufficient. The fixed telephone lines are currently exclusively provided by IAM, which is the incumbent operator. Thus, IAM still holds total monopoly of the fixed telephone lines. However, the expected advent of competition which will benefit the market, will also benefit telephone services, and the increasingly important Internet.

The Moroccan government plans to increase the number of main telephone lines to two million with a teledensity aim of 10 percent, by launching a bid to buy a private fixed–line licence (Tradeport, 2002). In response to the growing demand for fixed–line services, Morocco is expected to spend more than one billion USD in the next two years [2].

Mobile telephone

In 1989, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications introduced cellular mobile telephone in Rabat and other major cities with a total of 700 mobile telephone subscribers [3]. In the late 1990s, the IAM shifted its emphasis from providing basic telephone to value–added services that include multimedia integration of voice, text, data, graphics and images. The service initially developed quite slowly, but recent reports indicated that Morocco has enjoyed one of the strongest growth periods in its number of cellular telephones (NTRA, 2002; ITU, 2002). The number of cellular telephone subscribers soared from 42,924 subscribers in 1997, to 3.05 million in 2000, and to 3.3 million by the end of January 2001 (NTRA, 2002). Teledensity of the mobile telephone has swiftly progressed from 0.4 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 2001, reflecting an increase of 3,820 percent in 2001 (NTRA, 2002). These figures exceeded all public and private sector estimates at the time that the second GSM licence was being awarded.

The total number of mobile phone subscribers exceeded the fixed telephone line subscribers of four million in August 2000. By the year 2002, it was forecasted that there would be about six million mobile telephone subscribers in Morocco with a penetration rate of 18 percent, greater than the international average of 15 percent (NTRA, 2002). The mobile telephone network now reaches more than 85 percent of the population (ICT, 2002). Many remote areas with no previous telephone services can now be reached with the cellular phone network.

Growth rates in the Moroccan cellular market have exceeded 242 percent for the last four years making the cellular market one of the fastest growing, not only in Africa and the Arab world, but also in the entire world. As the head of the Arab regional office of the International Telecommunications Union, Ibrahim Kadi, put it "the Moroccan experience has become a landmark for all other countries to follow" [4].

Computers

The first modern computer was introduced in Morocco immediately after the country acquired its independence in 1957 [5]. Morocco’s information revolution was initiated in the 1980s with the growth of computer use in the Moroccan financial, administration and educational sectors [6]. This computerisation effort was the forerunner of what is called ICTs today. Data research was scarce, yet over the years the number of computers increased to about 11,000 units in 1990 and then to 45,000 units in 1995 (Trade Partners UK, 2001). That figure is likely to have doubled by now.

It was reported that in 2000, only a small percentage of the population had a personal computer at home about (545,000) (NTRA, 2002), yet Morocco carries the average of computer ownership in the Arab world.

In acknowledgment of PC potential in the information society, the Moroccan government has undertaken the task to increase the density of personal computers (number of PCs per 100 households). The PC growth is expected to be triggered by a drop in PC prices. Computer packages were launched in 2000, and many people have responded positively. In addition, to encourage the diffusion of PCs in Morocco, the government imported 100,000 PCs in 2001 (Trade Partners UK, 2002).

The major driver in the diffusion of home computing in Morocco has gone from games and videos in the late 1990s and early 2000s to the Internet. PC prices are coming down and the growing awareness of the Internet is pushing up sales. It is estimated that about 200,000 PCs were sold between 1995 and 1998. PC sales in Morocco rose from 70,000 in 1999 to 163,000 in 2000, for a total value of 175.23 million USD (Jankari, 2002). In 2000, desktops accounted for the vast majority of PC sales in Morocco with 92.8 percent share of the overall PC market. An estimation is forecasted that by 2005 the number of PC sales will reach 250,000 units. The Moroccan market for PCs was the third largest in Africa and the fifth largest in the Arab world. It had a growth rate of 10.6 percent in 2000 over the five–year forecast period ending in 2005 (Jankari, 2002). As a result, the home penetration of the PC increased to almost eight percent (Jankari, 2002).

The Internet

The history of the Internet in Morocco dates back to the early 1990s. Research universities were the starting points for the development of the Internet in Morocco. "Mohammadia’s High School for Engineers" in Rabat was a pioneer in establishing the first national Internet connection to Morocco in 1993. At the very outset is UUCP, (Unix–to–Unix Copy) an e–mail connection to the global Internet via European Universities (El–Mandjra, 2002). The first connection on the basis of TCP/IP was in 1995 through the Al–Akhawayan University in Ifran, which marked the official birth of the Internet in Morocco (El–Mandjra, 2002).

Like most Arab countries, the Internet in its very initial stage of development in the last decade was regarded as a research instrument for scientists to communicate with international scientific communities and colleagues. Typically, Internet access was limited to universities and research centres, to computer scientists for research communication at top universities [7].

The Internet has been available to the Moroccan public since November 1995. Its first widespread use was by students and researchers, who employed it for sending and receiving e–mail. The Internet’s diffusion in Morocco was slow primarily because computers were still rare. Furthermore, Internet costs were quite high during these early years. Thus the Internet had to overcome these hurdles if it was to enjoy popularity in Morocco.

Meanwhile, almost all Moroccan universities and higher education institutes had been connected to the Internet via an X.25–Internet gateway operated by the ISP MTDS in Rabat (USAID, 2002) Eight national high schools, 16 regional pedagogical centers and about 35 training centers are wired. Almost all high schools (557) and secondary schools (790) could connect to the Internet through leased lines and dial–up. In addition, 312 primary schools have already been connected and the rest will follow by the end of 2003 (Jankari, 2002). There are about 1,500 Cybercafés in every city and town (NTRA, 2002).

A considerable number of points of presence (POPs) are being established in minor cities and small towns. The number of Internet users is also spreading in small to medium cities and some villages, but Internet users are still concentrated primarily in the Rabat–Casablanca area.

In 1996 the average cost of Internet subscription was 50 USD per month (Rochdi, 2002). The cost of an adequate system for Internet access is beyond most Moroccan’s means. In early 1998, Internet access in Morocco cost about 40–50 USD per month for a subscription, which included fifteen hours online plus the cost of the telephone connection (approximately two USD per hour). By 1999, the average subscriptions had dropped to about 20 USD per month for unlimited access, with telephone charges remaining at about two USD per hour. Now cost of a monthly Internet subscription dropped to about six USD per month (Rochdi, 2002).

The NTRA introduced competition with the hitherto monopoly of the telecommunications carrier IAM by allowing several Internet service providers (ISPs) to enter the public Internet access market. In 1997 approximately 20 companies were granted licenses to become ISPs. ISPs offer a variety of services, generally ranging from e–mail, access to electronic bulletin boards and such Internet features as the Usenet News groups and electronic mailing lists. ISPs may include hosting and supervising Web sites. In 1998 about 60 percent of the ISPs started their business activities (Jankari, 2002) and with their recent proliferation, there are now about 130 ISPs (NTRA, 2002). In terms of the number of hosts, Morocco is now in the third position in Africa and the fourth position in the Arab world.

There also appears to be plenty of opportunities for growth to continue, since those Moroccans online account for only 1.6 percent of the country’s total population.

In 1996 there were about 50 Web sites, but at the end of 2001, there were 4500 registered domain names in Morocco (.ma, .com, .org, .net, etc.), with 3,500 of them having the ".ma" extension (NTRA, 2002).

Morocco’s first Internet café opened in 1996 in Rabat (Al–Alawi, 2002), with the NTRA issuing licenses for 50 cybercafés by the end of 1996 (Rochdi, 2001). Cybercafés have been mushrooming in major cities and also in small towns, however 42 percent of these cafes are located in the Rabat–Casablanca area (Al–Alawi, 2002). The total number of cybercafés increased from 500 in 1999 to 2500 in 2001. This is a 500 percent growth rate.

Cybercafés have become favourite hangout stations and meeting places for Morocco’s Internet users, particularly the young. They are open to all, there is no age limit and the fees vary according to location, ranging from 50 cents to one USD per hour. A recent study found that more than 50 percent of cybercafés are frequented everyday by between 30–70 persons (Jankari, 2002). The arrival of cybercafés resulted in an explosion of the Internet in Morocco. Many experts believe that Morocco is by far one of Africa’s most advanced countries in terms of the Internet.

The widespread availability of substitutes for PCs at home, such as cybercafés, has triggered the growth of the Internet use [8]. Consequently, increased competition has triggered a general downward trend in user charges, resulting in greater number of Internet users. A study, conducted by the IEC Marketing in 2001, showed 58 percent of all Internet access in Morocco is via cybercafés (Pastore, 2002).

Although the growth of the Internet began slowly, it is currently picking up momentum. Estimates put the number of Morocco’s Internet users at 10,000 in 1996 (Rochdi, 2002). In 1998, that number increased to 35,000 which is about 0.14 percent of the population. In 2001, the number of Internet users had progressed from 50,000 in 1999 to 400,000, reflecting a growth of about 700 percent (NTRA, 2002). According to statistics of the Moroccan Secretary State of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technologies, Morocco will reach one million Internet users by 2005 (Hajji, 2002). Morocco plans to reach 10 million Internet users by 2010. Yet this growth is only hopeful speculation, since the number of actual Internet users in Morocco was only 1.3 percent in 2001. Still, over three percent of the Moroccan educated population has some form of Internet access.

In 1998, there were only 400 Internet subscribers (Rochdi, 2002). In 2000, only 7,000 Moroccan households had Internet access, about three percent of households with computers. The recent data published on NRAT’s Web site gives the number of Internet subscribers at 53,000 (NTRA, 2002). It is estimated that the home Internet connections would increase to 150,000 by 2005. These estimates do not take into account the possibility that a single account may be shared by multiple users. According to another study, 29 percent of Moroccan Internet users have Internet access at home (Pastore, 2002).

The use of the Internet remains the domain of a relatively elite circle mainly those who are highly educated. More than two–thirds of Internet users (71 percent) have a high school diploma or more education. With regards to occupation, 20 percent said they were professionals and 20 percent of Internet users are university students.

In the early days, the use of the Internet was limited to males in their twenties or thirties with an engineering degree. According to IEC Marketing, 70 percent of the Moroccan Internet users are between 21 and 35 years old. Since 2000 the number of female Internet users has grown, supported by a new study that found that one quarter of Internet users in Morocco are women (IEC Marketing, 2002).

There is lack of detailed research on the use of the Internet in Morocco. One study, conducted for the NTRA, found that 85 percent of Internet surfers from cybercafés are chatters, followed by e–mail use at 60 percent and entertainment at 50 percent.

As elsewhere, a large use of the Internet today in Morocco is for e–mail. In 1995, there were about 2,000 e–mail users in Morocco today, Morocco accounts for about 300,000 e–mail addresses. Some estimates report that 150,000 Moroccans have at least one e–mail account [9]. As e–mail services become more widespread, it will also generate more users for other Internet services and products.

As mentioned earlier, although Morocco witnessed an important growth in the use of the Internet during the last decade; Morocco’s internet diffusion and use is still low by European standards, not to mention American ones. To promote Internet diffusion, several hurdles need to be surmounted. Serious problems include the lack of adequate networking infrastructures; low penetration of personal computers; computer illiteracy; and, the high cost of Internet access. Before competitive pricing for services, only banks, large firms and government bureaucracies could afford the telephone fees and charges. Other problems are Internet traffic "jams" and congested data networks, caused by limited bandwidth. Many Moroccans refer to the Internet as the "World Wide Wait".

Another key problem to consider is the content of Web sites. Policymakers admit that there is a lack of useful Arabic content. While content in English is dominant on the Web, English literacy in Morocco is limited to less than 10 percent.

The government has launched several campaigns to promote the use of the Internet in every aspect of daily life. Finanical support was provided to increase the number of household computers and broadband Internet access was provided throughout the country. This promotion for Internet use included grants to operate cybercafés in small and major towns.

Legal Aspects of the Internet

The broad realm of Morocco’s telecommunications policy has thus acquired a salience it never had in the past. Indeed, ICTs as well as the Internet have become a part of public political discourse in the late 1990s (Yahyawi, 1996).

The rapid advent of the Internet led to a discussion of the legal aspects involved in its use. There have been concerns that the Internet could negatively impact Moroccan society, culture and tradition. This potential pitfall is related to social values. One fear is that pornography and subversive information is freely distributed over the Internet.

A few papers have been published in the print media focusing on legal issues, calling for Internet regulation, especially to protect children from obscenity, pornography and violence. The main subject under discussion has been censorship. In the Parliament no bills have yet been passed, thus there are no legal regulations governing the use of the Internet in Morocco, giving Moroccans the credence of being a free country. In terms of Internet censorship, Larbi Messari, once a Moroccan Minister of Communication and Culture, asserts that the logic of the digital age "has banned the banning" [10].

 

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National strategy: E–Morocco

Studies by the World Bank have shown that there is a positive correlation between economic development and telecommunications density, and some studies even claim that a causal relationship exists in both directions. There is some hope that ICTs might enable developing economies to "leapfrog" from a predominantly agricultural to an informational economy. Thus, it is beneficial for developing countries to initiate comprehensive national e–strategies that address issues such as connectivity, regulatory environment and human capacity.

The Moroccan government’s efforts to create a knowledge–based society were strengthened with the announcement of a national strategy called "E–Morocco". In 2001, the Moroccan government presented its vision of the future in publication entitled "Morocco in the global information society: National strategy, E–Morocco." The national strategy is directed by the Office of the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister responsible for Postal Services and Telecommunications and Information Technologies. The basic aim of this strategy is to bring Morocco into an information–based society. Its mission is to establish a very high bandwidth national data network for applications in education, e–commerce, e–government and many other important areas.

The integration of Morocco into the information global society is possible solely by generalizing the use of the ICTs in educational, administrative and economic sectors (Hajji, 2002). Morocco’s national strategy is a part of an information technologies development. The government launched its plan to set a trajectory for the development of the sector as well as preparing the country to become a major regional telecommunications and information technology hub. Since 2000 the effort in promoting the computer services industry was geared towards the long–term objective of making Morocco a regional software centre. Its edge in ITCs has been recognized.

The Moroccan government has made consistent efforts to provide the necessary infrastructure and an IT–friendly business environment. In 2005, Morocco should reach the level of emerging economies. Its efforts to attract foreign high–tech companies to stimulate its internal software development and e–commerce industries have been problematic (most of these efforts made by the Moroccan government were in the late 1990s). However, a well–educated technically qualified pool of potential IT employees is a more critical advantage than the quality of a country’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The second initiative involves general steps to ensure the competitiveness of Moroccan industries as a whole, such as support for the construction of an e–commerce system in traditional industries. These strategies contribute to Morocco’s evolution towards an advanced information nation. The following are initiatives based on the Moroccan government’s strategy; the vision of which is to become a knowledge–based economy under the guidance of the government–led information promotion committee.

E–education

Because of the huge potential of ICTs, the Moroccan government drew up a national budget investment to develop a national information and telecommunications infrastructure. The Office of the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister envisaged an investment volume of 60 billion Dhs for the period 1999–2003, although some predict that this investment is likely to double, as the domestic demand for telecommunications services rapidly increases.

A chief application of the Internet has been in education. The government has put a high premium on the concept of the e–learning, focusing computer manpower towards increasing the supply of trained computer professionals. Before the application of the national strategy only a limited number of computer professionals graduated in the 1990s. Efforts were undertaken to produce an additional supply of computer professionals, software engineers and computer science experts in the labour market by 2003 [11]. Yearly, some 5,000 scientific graduates will be retrained into IT professionals. The Moroccan government hopes to produce 2,000 IT professionals a year by 2010 [12]. To supply the growing educational and training demand, active support has been granted to private institutes, polytechnics and colleges that provide IT training. New computer training centres were set up, including some Indian IT training centres, which begun their operations in Morocco (Jankari, 2002).

Future efforts are devoted to the development of information processing, as distinct from IT skills. Here there are signs that the national curriculum has been modified to support the development of information handling, evaluation and analysis skills. According to the government’s plans, future generations will emerge from the school system as tech–savvy workforces. Similarly, great progress has been made at the tertiary level by setting up a multimedia centre in every school. The computerisation of schools and universities is underway and is likely to continue at a reasonable pace. About 2,000 schools will be equipped with IT infrastructures and multimedia tools by the end of 2005.

The government has been operating country–wide networks, linking research institutions, top universities and administrative departments, since the second half of the 1990s. Educators and researchers have access to the Internet to share the results of their scientific research, surpassing bureaucratic ramifications that normally cause delays. In 1997 the Ministry of Higher Education with collaboration with the Ministry of Education developed a Moroccan Wide Area Network (MARWAN), an academic and research network connecting about 16 Moroccan universities. MARWAN was launched by the government on 7 February 2002 (IAM, 2002). By means of MARWAN, Moroccan academicians can communicate with their colleagues and to access more than 300 bibliographical catalogues across the world.

Currently, Morocco has no virtual university. The emergence of the first Internet university in the country may take several years, if not several decades. In this respect Morocco lags behind other developing countries such as Egypt and Jordan.

There are many international technology parks, with one in Casablanca and two others in development in Bouznika and Casablanca. Casablanca’ technology park has about 90 IT firms and investments from many countries, including the U.S., France, South Korea (Jankari, 2002). The other two parks are currently in the process of planning and implementation.

E–government

A visit to Mincom’s Web site (at http://www.mincom.com) will reveal that just about every government agency and ministry is now on the Web as part of the government’s efforts to highlight the importance of IT in building a network and information–based politics and government in Morocco.

The commitment of the Moroccan government to use IT for administrative purposes is strongly felt. Policymakers and scholars believe that e–government would improve the quality of interactivity with citizens as well as improve the speed and quality of policy developments.

The Moroccan government has adopted many policies to encourage and mandate the use of the Internet. The government will use the Internet to take into consideration opinions from ministries, the legislative body, academia, and the business sector. Government employees are being trained to use the ICTs and particularly the Internet in an effort to prepare them for the depolyment of e–government applications. Pioneer projects are under way, such as the computerisation of public records in the city of Rabat, and an initiative to establish an electronic document distribution system to be used by administrative bodies.

Yet, the government’s plans for e–politics are based more on fashion than on substance, a prime example of which is e–governance. E–governance is just as fuzzy as the logic of the information society, as there is no elaboration of what e–governance really is or how it is supposed to function. In fact, e–governance has simply become an overused buzzword.

E–commerce

Within the framework of an "e–commerce initiative," the Moroccan government has engaged in the development and the implementation of national e–commerce platforms and applications. Morocco has assigned high priority to e–commerce, yet the commercial use of the Web is not widespread in Morocco, which may be due to a variety of constraints. However, recently, many Moroccan newspapers have gone online, with Moroccans living abroad as their main audience. This business is not yet profitable but is being operated with the future in mind. A variety of newspapers create special weekly IT supplements to popularise and familiarize the use of the Internet for educational, research and employment purposes.

Several Moroccan banks are entering the market to capitalize on e–commerce. A limited number of consumer services are turning to the Internet for electronic commerce. Morocco now has many Internet shopping sites that specialize in offering a variety of products, such as electronics and telecommunications equipment. One hundred Moroccan enterprises have registered either .com or com.ma domains. For the present, about 20 percent of Moroccan firms are connected to the Internet and about 20 percent are working towards having an Internet connection [13]. In the near future, e–commerce transactions are expected to grow with the expansion of high–speed Internet connectivity and the wireless Internet. The government plan to ameliorate the competitiveness of Moroccan firms by a better penetration of ICTs. The government has encouraged firms to embrace the Internet and to develop a presence on the Web. According to the national information strategy, all Moroccan firms will have Internet access by the end of 2005 [14]. In particular, the B2B market will become increasingly active as more firms participate in e–marketplace to distribute their products and goods [15].

The government also helps to promote e–commerce. Experts from the academic and business sectors as well as government regulators have carried out studies on e–commerce, digital government services, remote computing, and a structural framework for establishing a strong information technology foundation.

The B2C market is also expected to expand as consumers increase purchases through the Internet. Currently, online transactions are still very rare, because face–to–face transactions, a common social feature in the Arab world, dominate Moroccan life. The absence of a fully developed "credit card culture" may also hamper online purchases. Furthermore, limited bandwidth makes this process slow and less reliable. Morocco is improving this situation by upgrading its telecommunications infrastructure. In particular, credit card transactions are expected to increase as the reliability of Internet settlement systems improves.

Morocco needs to develop a culturally appropriate national strategy if the government wishes information and communication technologies to have a positive impact on overall socio–economic development. Morocco needs to base its strategy on a much greater consideration of local cultural and social issues. Changing the culture of information use and developing a capacity to use information is, arguably, the most important element in forging an information society. Thus the attention of the Moroccan government has focused as well on education and training.

 

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Conclusion

The history of the rise of the network society in Morocco is as recent as the 1990s. The deregulation of the telecommunications policy signified a massive paradigm shift, with policy discussions concentrating on privatisation and the introduction of competitive market structures. Liberalisation policies of the 1990s further helped the growth of the Moroccan information society.

New telecommunications law profoundly transformed the telecommunications landscape in Morocco. The Moroccan government has made good progress in positioning IT for national development. The ITU ranked Morocco as one of the most competitive countries among the developing countries. The continued liberalisation of telecommunications infrastructure services has to be vigorously pursued. The highest priority has to be given to the creation of an ubiquitous, digital, high–speed broadband infrastructures throughout the country. The current densities of information and communication devices will increase as a direct result of the deliberate policies of the government to end monopolies, introducing competition and promoting information and communication technologies for social and governmental reasons.

History shows that new trends in the telecommunications sector are far from irreversible. Hence, while the digitalisation process may be an unprecedented development that has taken hold in Morocco, it is still capable of being harnessed and directed by the central government to serve its own purposes, be they liberalization or increased control. The government should continue the path of full liberalisation of the telecommunications market.

A variety of activities are needed in the implementation of an appropriate technology policy, ranging from training and the development of infrastructures to enhanced universal access for all educated Moroccans. It is equally important to conduct market research and create an e–commerce task force.

An IT–friendly environment is necessary in both law and policy to promote the use of IT applications. In order to increase the density of a variety of information technologies, fiscal and tax incentives should be adopted. IT companies which create jobs should be given tax exemptions in direct correlation to the number of newly created jobs. They have the potential to generate sustainable growth, create new sources of employment and thus reduce the latent roots of social disparities. To be truly successful, the widest range of telecommunications services should be widely available to all Moroccans at reasonable costs. End of article

 

About the Author

Mohammed Ibahrine is a Ph.D. candidate at Hamburg University. His dissertation is entitled "Information and communication technologies and Moroccan politics: The political use of the Internet by the Islam–oriented movements". Research interests include media and politics in the Arab world, politics and information and communication technologies in the Arab world and global politics and information and communication technologies.
E–mail: ibahrine@hotmail.com.

 

Acknowledgements

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to all those who have helped me. I wish particularly thank to Dr. M. El–Mandjra, Mr. M. Alawi, Mr Y. Ell–Yahyawi and Mr. R. Jankari for their readiness to answer my questions. Without their support, an essay such as this could not have been written, given the difficulties associated with such research in Morocco.

 

Notes

1. Kavanaugh, 1998, p. 33.

2. McDawall, 2003, p. 29.

3. Kavanaugh, 1998, p. 59.

4. McDawall, 2003, p. 34.

5. Sadiqi, 1990, p. 19.

6. Sadiqi, 1990, p. 28.

7. El–Mandjra, 2001, p. 137.

8. Op.cit.

9. Ibahrine, 2002, p. 894.

10. Messari, personal communication.

11. SEPTTI, 2001, p. 15.

12. SEPTTI, 2001, p. 17.

13. SEPTTI, 2001, p. 24.

14. SEPTTI, 2001, p. 29.

15. SEPTTI, 2001, p. 23.

 

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L. Messari, Moroccan Minister of Communication and Culture. Personal interview. Rabat, Morocco.


Editorial history

Paper received 20 March 2003; accepted 18 December 2003.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2004, First Monday

Copyright ©2004, Mohammed Ibahrine

Towards a national telecommunications strategy in Morocco by Mohammed Ibahrine
First Monday, volume 9, number 1 (January 2004),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_1/ibahrine/index.html





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