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China Bans Third-Party VoIP Services
By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor
Internet phone services other than those provided by China Telecom and China Unicom have been made illegal, which is expected to make services like Skype (News - Alert) unavailable in the country, People's Daily reports.
The decision seems clearly aimed at maintaining a duopoly of such services for the two state-run communications companies, while simultaneously tightening control of content and communications within the country, one might argue.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said all voice over Internet protocol (VoIP_ phone services are illegal on the Chinese mainland, except those provided by telecommunications carriers China Telecom (News - Alert) and China Uniom. The ministry gave no timetable on when the ruling takes effect.
China is not the first country to declare Skype or other services illegal. The International Telecommunications Union reported in 2007 that VoIP was explicitly legal in dozens of countries (50 or so), but as you can imagine, that leaves scores of countries where it is not.
Beyond the obvious issues about telecom policy in various countries, the move to make VoIP an application or service available only from two authorized government-owned companies raises issues about the notion of "Internet freedom." Where the original idea was to allow any user to communicate with any other user, we now see many different limitations on the "any to any" principle, ranging from outright bans on VoIP, to restrictions on "who" can offer it legally, to walled-garden application environments.
The point is that the original "any-to-any" Internet now is fragmenting. It no longer is true that there is a single Internet in practice. There are language-bound Internets, walled garden services accessible only by members, or users of specific devices or operating systems.
Beyond that, there are services using Internet Protocol that actually are not "Internet" services for purposes of regulation. All cable TV, satellite TV or telco TV services use IP technology, but are not "Internet" services, in terms of regulatory treatment. Traditional "voice" services offered by telecom companies will, over time, also shift to use of VoIP. But those services are not like Skype and other applications.
Regulatory policy is different in each nation, of course. But it is clearer as time goes by that the original "Internet" no longer corresponds to today's use of IP services and applications. We might think that is a good thing, or a bad thing, but it is a fact of life. As there have been recent moves to place Internet regulation in the hands of government authorities, it may occur in the future with commercial developments likely to continue to "fragment" the Internet into somewhat distinct domains.
Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf