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All internet phone will be banned in China except two state-owned networks, Skype illegal

Posted by Author on December 31, 2010

– Malcolm Moore in Shanghai, telegraph.co.uk –

China on Thursday announced that it had made illegal the use of Skype, the popular internet telephony service, as the country continues to shut itself off from the rest of the world.

In the latest move dashing Western internet company hopes of breaking into China, it was announced that all internet phone calls were to be banned apart from those made over two state-owned networks, China Unicom and China Telecom.

“[This] is expected to make services like Skype unavailable in the country,” reported the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist party.

Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are already blocked in China and Google closed down its Chinese servers last year after heavy government pressure.

Yesterday, Wang Chen, the deputy head of the Chinese Propaganda department, said: “By November … 350 million pieces of harmful information, including text, pictures and videos, had been deleted [from the Chinese internet].”

Some Chinese users of Twitter, the micro-blogging website, claimed they could already no longer download Skype, but the service appeared to be working normally in Shanghai.

In a statement, Skype said: “Users in China currently can access Skype via Tom Online, our partner.” It declined to comment on “speculation” that the service would be blocked in the near future.

China is now the world’s largest market for internet phone calls, which are far cheaper than landline calls and are cutting into the market of China’s state telecommunications giants.

Skype has offered Chinese users a joint service with Hong Kong-based Tom since September 2007. The service has been widely criticised for monitoring messages on the network, especially those which mention “sensitive” subjects such as Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement, and Tibet.

Yesterday the Chinese ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which issues licences to telecommunication companies, declined to comment on when the regulations would take effect. SkypeBJ, the company’s Beijing partner, declined to comment on the ban.

According to the new regulations, phone calls from computers to land lines on Skype will be banned, but it may still be legal to make calls from computers to other computers.

Experts said the rules would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, since Chinese internet users could simply download versions of Skype or other internet phone call programs from websites outside China.

“It is very unlikely that they will manage to shut Skype down,” said Professor Kan Kaili at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. “Skype is the market leader, but there is also MSN and Gmail Talk. The children of Chinese government officials, who are studying abroad, use these services to call home, so I do not think anyone is going to cut the lines. Even if they take a strict approach, such as getting local operators to block the broadband services of people who use Skype, people will still find a way around it,” he added.

telegraph.co.uk

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