The tender will mark a new phase in the opening of the telecoms sector, and is expected to be followed at a later date by the sale of a backbone licence. ANRT initially planned to select an operator for a new local loop too, but a study conducted for the telecoms watchdog by the US’ McKinsey & Company concluded that the sale of a separate local loop licence would not be viable. ANRT will now integrate frequency availability into the fixed-line and backbone licences (MEED 2:3:01).

The fixed-line tender, in which at least nine international companies have expressed an interest, is expected to close at the beginning of March, and the tender for the backbone licence will probably be issued three to four months after the fixed-line award.

The total number of fixed telephone lines in Morocco has declined to 1.2 million from 1.5 million since the government sold the first private GSM licence to a consortium led by Spain’s Telefonicain 1999. Analysts say the fixed-line service, which is offered by the majority government-owned Maroc Telecom, is weak and that many customers have switched to mobile telephones. There is understood to be latent demand for a new fixed-line licence from customers wanting improved services.

France’s Vivendi Universalwas the sole bidder for a 35 per cent stake in Maroc Telecom at the end of last year, after at least six international operators had requested the tender documents. The company paid MD 23,000 million (then $2,130 million) for the stake (MEED 5:1:01).