Telefonica SA's Moroccan subsidiary Meditel has been awarded the country's second fixed-line telephone license after offering 75 mln dirhams (6.8 mln eur), Morocco's national telecommunications regulatory agency (ANRT) said.

Meditel has been active in Morocco as a mobile phone operator since 1999, rivaling in that sector Maroc Telecom of which 51 pct is owned by Vivendi Universal.

In the fight for the fixed-line telephone license, Meditel, or Meditelecom as it is also known, defeated Maroc Connet which had offered 50 mln dirhams, said ANRT at a press conference.

'By awarding the second fixed-line telephone license to Meditelecom, the Moroccan telecommunications sector has made a new step in its deregulation marking the end of Maroc Telecom's fixed-line monopoly,' said ANRT.

A third fixed-line license is to be awarded shortly.

ARNT expects the Moroccan telecommunications sector to be totally deregulated by 2008.

Within the next 10 years, estimates expect in Morocco more than 3 mln more fixed phone lines, 7 mln more mobile phone lines and about 500,000 new Internet subscribers.

Meanwhile Morocco will launch tenders this year to sell two third-generation (3G) mobile phone licenses in a bid to boost wireless services, the state telecoms regulator ANRT said on Tuesday.

Maroc Telecom, which is 51% owned by France's Vivendi Universal, and Meditelecom, a firm led by Spain's Telefonica, are expected to bid, ANRT said. Cellco Médi Télécom is also expected to place a bid.

Each licence will cost $40-million with the networks expected to be operational by the end of 2007, ANRT Chairman Mohamed Benchahboun said.

The UMTS permits will allow for the high-speed transfer of data on mobile phones, so users can download music, games, and video to their handsets.

With over 65% of the 30-million population below the age of 35, the Moroccan market is less mature than European markets and promises robust growth for operators.

The country is also expected to license a third fixed line operator soon, after Médi Télécom beat Maroc Connect to the second national operating concession earlier this week.