Bringing the Networked Future to Morocco:
An Interim Report

Douglas A. Davis, Ph.D.
Haverford College

As outlined in my 1994 application for a Fulbright Lecturing/Research Award from CIES, this six month award was (1) to allow me to initiate a cross-cultural study of personality and social factors influencing access to and effectiveness of computer and network use in Moroccan academic and research settings and (2) to facilitate academic collaboration by improving Moroccan access to Internet resources and US access to Moroccan academic data. In this initial report I wish to summarize my grant-related activities and to reflect briefly on the progress to date of Moroccan Internet access.

Morocco and the Internet

Costs and Services. Starting in 1992, email-only access for Moroccan academicians in Rabat has been available via the Ecole Mohammadia d'Ingenieurs (EMI). Full public access to a national Internet node administered by the Office National des Postes et Telecommunications (ONPT) was announced in 1994, with an initial target date of January, 1995. Following an ONPT contract with MCI, 128kbps access to the Internet became technically available in November, 1995. The ONPT solicited applications from prospective Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and by the end of January, 1996, several of these were beginning operations via leased 64kbps connections to the ONPT node. These ONPT lines are currently billed at Dh. 14000 (US $1647) per month, plus TVA (currently 20%). Customers of these services enter into a contract with the individual ISP and access the Internet through a modem connection using a national telephone number for each ISP. The telephone call is billed at Dh. 0.80 per two-minute connection, or Dh. 24 (US $2.80) per hour, exclusive of TVA. The ISP bills each client by the month and, in most instances, by the access minute. Total hourly access charges, including TVA, for extended use of the most successful ISP to date will average roughly Dh. 71 (US $8.35). The ONPT has also provided dial-up access directly to a number of academic, ministerial, and private clients. As of May, 1996, Internet access is probably available to several hundred dial-in customers. One public academic institution, the Institut National des Postes et Telecommunications (INPT) presently has a direct 64kbps line to the ONPT node, with campus access via the INPT LAN. The other public universities and technical institutes in Rabat are negotiating with the ONPT for collective access through a proposed academic network. At present, some academic institutions in Casablanca, Marrakech, Oujda, and Rabat have dial-in accounts.

Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. AUI, the first private Moroccan university, is a special case, with its own direct Internet connection via a 64kbps leased line to France. The node became functional in October, 1995, and the several hundred AUI students and staff have had email and Web access via the campus Ethernet since January, 1996.

Non-academic Internet Use. The Middle East/North Africa Economic Summit (MENA) office in Rabat initiated a Web-server connected to a 64kbps line to the ONPT in March. Several government ministries and the Moroccan Parliament have hosted demonstrations of the Internet (see below), and some individuals in these settings presently have dial-in access. World Wide Web pages are functioning at the ONPT, and the Ministry of Communications plans an Internet presence for a proposed multimedia center. An abundance of Morocco-related Web sites have been developed during the past year by Moroccan students and researchers with access in Europe and North America, and these resources are becoming well-known in Morocco.

Project Activities

Lecturing/Workshops. The initial phase of my project, observing and assisting academic Internet users as they became familiar with the world of interactive information, began on my arrival in October, 1995. I used the first several months of my grant, while waiting for the national node to become functional, to establish relationships with Moroccan colleagues at numerous academic institutions and to demonstrate the Internet and World Wide Web via files stored on the hard disk of my laptop computer. My many public presentations concerning the World Wide Web (see list below) made me a visible and credible resource, and I soon had more invitations to introduce the Net and to run workshops than I could honor in the time remaining.

In October, I assisted the planning group for "Les Deuxièmes Journées Internet au Maroc," a four day conference held at the INPT November 8 to 11. I personally developed a World Wide Web demonstration of downloaded pages concerning Morocco, academic institutions, library resources, and on-line commerce. This demo was featured at the workshops forming the core of the conference, and I co-presented one of the workshops.

Following a visit to Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI) in October, I was invited by Dean Mohammed Dahbi to lecture in early December on academic uses of the Internet and to present workshops for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences. I delivered a lecture/demonstration to over one hundred people, and I assisted faculty and students with individual access. On a second visit in April I participated in a roundtable discussion of ethics and the Internet and conducted two faculty/graduate student workshops on the construction of World Wide Web pages. A partial, roughly chronological, list of my other grant-related activities follows:

An invited presentation at Dar America in Rabat on November 30 as part of a dialogue with Professor Najet Rochdi on "The Global Information Marketplace";

A lecture/demonstration on the World Wide Web for a meeting of the Board of English Language Librarians (BELL) at the British Council in Rabat;

An invited address to 100 third-cycle students at the Hassan II Institute for Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine (IAV), and a subsequent presentation for IAV faculty and administration;

Two invited presentations at the conference "Informatique au Service de l'Univeriste" at U. Mohammed I in Oujda;

Two presentations to faculty, administrators, and students at the National Institute for Statistics and Applied Economics (INSEA) in Rabat;

Meetings at their invitation with the Minister for Relations with Parliament (M. Abdessalem Baraka) and the Minister of Communications (M. Moulay Driss Alaoui Mdaghri) to discuss the development of Moroccan government resources on the Internet;

Invited lectures on two occasions, consultation about the development of Internet services, and a demonstration of the Internet at a special colloquium at the National Library in Rabat, all at the request of its director, Dr. Ahmed Toufiq;

Invited discussant at a full-day seminar on new information technologies at the School of Information Science (ESI) in Rabat;

A lecture/demonstration of the Internet's legislative resources for the Moroccan Parliament; and

Participation at the invitation of Professor Amine Mounir Alaoui in a colloquium on the Internet for students and faculty at the Ecole Mohammadia d'Ingenieurs.

Research and Tentative Conclusions. The research component of this project has involved (a) interviews with administrators, staff, and students at the various Moroccan institutions listed above, to determine the extent and kind of available computing resources and to solicit views about the effects of Internet access; (b) questionnaire data-collection concerning Moroccan attitudes toward the Internet; and (c) observation of student and faculty participants in Internet/Web workshops. At the invitation of their English professor, Amina Alaoui, I served as the major advisor for two advanced INPT students, Afif Mechbal and Abderrahmane Mouinr. We devised and pretested a questionnaire on attitudes toward information technology and the Internet in Morocco, and we collected data both via printed survey forms distributed to students and staff at the INPT and neighboring institutes and by means of an interactive form available on the World Wide Web. The latter form has attracted over 140 responses from Moroccan students and other Web-users, and data are still coming in. A draft of the student paper is presently available, and a summary of statistical findings will be soon.

Because of the delay in actual implementation of Internet access, my observations of the individual and institutional impact of the new technology have necessarily been fragmentary and tentative. I will be monitoring the development of Moroccan Net activity through the Internet after my return to the US, and I am hoping to study personality and cultural aspects of Internet use on subsequent visits. To summarize my initial impressions:

Morocco has more than adequate human resources to employ Internet technology in academic institutions as soon as economic resources for connection and training become available; but the cost of Net connection, both via individual dial-in accounts and institutional leased lines -- while within the range of costs to Internet users in many parts of the world -- will be prohibitive for most public academic institutions without rate reductions or external subsidies.

Moroccan researchers, teachers, and advanced students are well aware of many potential Internet benefits; but there is uncertain bureaucratic support for free access to data, and many officials express concern about the consequences of general and unrestricted access to Internet resources.

There is wide awareness of the potential of the Internet to enable Moroccan institutions and individuals s to present themselves to each other and to the world; but specific projects to put Moroccan data and opinion on-line face major obstacles due both to a tradition of reticence about sharing information and to lack of training and experience in the production and maintenance of on-line resources.

The social class and gender differences in computer and Internet use of which I wrote in my application remain of great interest, but it is simply too early to do more than speculate how these might manifest themselves in Morocco. To be sure, computers are a rare resource in most settings, and the cost of an adequate system for Internet access will remain beyond most individuals for the foreseeable future. This will prevent the early socialization into computer and Internet use that seems a major factor the emergence of Net "culture" in the US. A majority of US public schools are now connected to the Internet, and millions of college students have essentially unlimited free access; and this level of connectivity seems beyond the horizon here. On the other hand, television and satellite access has grown very rapidly in recent years, despite the large fraction of a typical family's budget represented by these devices; and the likely pervasiveness of the Internet in global education, commerce, and entertainment in the next few years suggests that Moroccans too will see this resource as essential and will manage access. My experiences of recent months have deepened my conviction that access to computer technology and global networks is crucial if "North-South" gaps between richer and poorer countries are not to be exacerbated, that these powerful tools must be universally available in the educational system if Morocco is to join the new global information economy, and that the resources exist for making effective use of the Internet if decision-makers can be persuaded of the importance of this technology.

Acknowledgments. The list of persons and institutions who have assisted this project is well beyond what a brief report can contain. I am especially grateful to the entire Fulbright staff, a group of dedicated professionals who have responded to all my requests with patience and helpfulness. I am also deeply appreciative of the founding members of the fledgling Moroccan Internet Society, whose energy and optimism about this new medium has survived many frustrations and whom I shall continue to value as colleagues in cyberspace. Among the latter, I am especially grateful to Amine Mounir Alaoui, Malika El Boury Baiz, Riad Boukili, Nabila El-Marrakchi, Najat Rochdi, Jack Rusenko, and Mostapha Terrab.

llah ybarek fi-koum!