China, with its 450 million Internet users, is going after Internet phone and VoIP services, such as Skype (News - Alert), claiming its actions to be in the benefit of the country’s state-owned telephone companies. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology revealed on its website that it is working to fight “illegal Internet phone services,” without any warning of the specific actions that will take place.
As TMC’s (News - Alert) Chief Technology Officer, Tom Keating, published in a recent blog post, “They did not offer specifics on the crackdown or when they would be shutting down illegal Voice over Internet services. The ministry also listed a telephone hotline for citizens to report any violations. You know, report your neighbor using Skype to call grandma and stuff. Then the Chinese authorities can come break down your door and smash your Skype-enabled PC.”
The threat of Chinese authorities at the door is a possibility. Not only has Skype’s VoIP service provided cheap Internet calls, competing with state-owned telecoms such as China Telecom and China Unicom, but more importantly, has been a popular tool with activists and others who want to share information relatively freely.
With a little more investigation, however, it appears that most of the country's major telecoms have been offering Internet phone services only on a trial basis, bringing into to question how much of a competitive edge state-owned telecoms really have over Skype . Kan Kaili, a professor at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications, therefore speculates, "This notice is actually protecting the telecoms' traditional voice services.”
FastCompany reports Skype’s response isn’t likely to be cut and run, suggesting that the company will work with regulators behind closed doors to work out an agreement. Especially since the Ministry’s announcement follows closely after Skype’s announcement of 3G video calls on iPhone (News - Alert), iPad and iPod Touch devices, restricting the company from forming a real presence in China
“By bringing video to mainstream users at their home or work via their desktops, on the go with their mobiles, or into their living room via their TV, Skype has made it possible for millions of people to share video moments wherever they are,” said Neil Stevens, general manager of Skype’s consumer business, in a statement. China’s crackdown on VoIP applications, however, eliminates this capability, receiving criticism, but taking a serious measure to protect the dominance of state-owned telcos.
Jaclyn Allard is a TMCnet copy editor. She most recently worked on the production team at Juran Institute, a quality consulting firm producing its own training and marketing materials. Previously, she interned at Curbstone Press, a nonprofit publishing press in Willimantic, CT, and fulfilled the role of Editor-in-Chief for the literature and arts journal published by the University of Connecticut. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Jaclyn Allard