This month has been surprising for the subscribers of Maroc Telecom, the leading Moroccan mobile phone carrier. After a few weeks of using their free unlimited 3G option, they received a surprising text announcing them that they’ve used up their 3G plan and need to buy a new one. What happened to “unlimited”?
Maroc Telecom, also known as IAM, changed its policy without much communication about it. Now, if the subscribers use more than 1Gb per month, their option will be suspended unless they buy a 2Gb option for 50 DAM (US $5.8).
The telecom company's main justification for the new charge has been that they improved their internet speed from 512Kb/s to 3.6 Mb/s; a relatively large jump.
I've read several upset users complaining on the web, but is it really such a bad thing?
We asked several players of the ecosystem what this means for web entrepreneurs.
Yassine El Kachchani, founder of Doofry, formerly LaCartePlz, says, it “narrows down a potential market that didn't need another huge block on its infrastructure.” But this may not matter much, he says, as, business-wise, 3G is essentially equivalent to Edge. He calls entrepreneurs to focus on what matters: “3G restriction is bad news, but let's not get distracted: there is no mobile market yet, we are barely in the early days of web products.”
Mohamed Benboukber, the Managing Director of Mobiblanc, a mobile app agency, agrees. “It will slow the progress of mobile consumption,” he says, but “it’s a battle between the heart and the mind." Of course, free access to 3G is great, but when it comes to building companies, he says, “3G is only a substitution technology; the basis of Internet connection is ADSL.”
Benboukber also has some sympathy for the telecoms. “Moroccans love to be mobile, but the current situation was not working," he says. "People were abusing it and creating a connection saturation.” For people who really needed a mobile data connection, it simply wasn't working.
He recalls that ADSL is affordable in Morocco. According to the ANRT, the National Agency of Telecommunication's Regulation, Moroccans using the ADSL spend an average of 99 DAM (US $11.50) per month. Even if the number of ADSL plans in Morocco grew by 18.29% from February 2012 to March 2013, ADSL penetration is still only 18% (around 725,000 total users), as compared to 82% penetration on 3G.
Redouane Dahmouni, one of the organizers of the Startup Weekends in Morocco, on the other hand, doesn’t think the 3G paywall will slow market growth, especially as competition is fierce between the three mobile operators who offer 3G.
From what I understood after talking with Bennoukber and Dhamouni, it seems that the improvements in speed are viewed as a positive that far outweighs the annoyance of a fee; the paid option is still seen as affordable enough not to stop growth in internet use.
At the end of the day, however, Benboukber thinks the main issue here is communication.
IAM is legally allowed to change their terms; the terms and conditions that subscribers agree to state that if subscribers are not happy, they can quit the service within two weeks. In this case, they simply didn't give enough notice; by the time subscribers realized what happened, it was too late to change their operator.
Internet is still a new thing in Morocco, so building trust is key, whether it’s for e-commerce website or internet providers. Moroccans need to be sure of what the internet will cost them in the future. If they can’t trust the leading phone provider, how can they trust the internet?
Yet the market is still young, so there's still time to build a fast, transparent, trustworthy ecosystem that will boost e-consumption.