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Chinese Authority Restricting VoIP Services, Including Skype

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in China recently issued an online circular to announce that Chinese authorities will be carrying out a campaign to restrict illegal Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone services. According to a Beijing Morning Post report, only state-owned major Chinese telecommunications operators will be licensed to provide Internet phone services linking telephones and computers.

“We are carrying out with relevant authorities a campaign to crack down on illegal Voice over Internet protocol phone services,” the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in the circular.

This means firms like Skype, a popular VoIP service, could be banned under the ministry’s new rules.

Skype users pay just 0.19 yuan (three cents) per minute to call a landline number in the United States, while the same call on China Unicom costs at least 2.4 yuan per minute.

In the brief circular, no detailed definition of “illegal” services was given, nor did it provide any timetable for shutting down these “illegal” services. The ministry also declined immediate comment when asked for clarification of the policy. However, the ministry listed a telephone hotline for citizens to report any violations.

The Chinese ministry is trying to protect state-owned telecom operators, who are reluctant to promote the service because it will marginalize their existing — and lucrative — international call services. According to industry watchers, this decision is going to affect users making cheap international calls through Web-based communications companies such as Skype. These users include thousands of individuals as well as business customers.

At 450 million, China happens to have the world’s biggest Internet population. In a statement, vice-minister Xi Guohua said communications between computers (PC-to-PC) remain open to all service providers in China.

UUCall, a homegrown Skype-like service which calls itself “the first Chinese Internet phone brand,” was shut down in October 2009 on suspicion of operating illegal Web phone services. It reportedly resumed business in February after moving its domain name to Hong Kong.

In a report, Xi said China Telecom and China Unicom had licenses to provide PC-to-phone services in four cities on a trial basis. He added the government was considering an expansion of the program.

Officials at Skype were not immediately available to comment on the issue.

This is really a blow for Skype, which made headlines during the last week of December with what was labeled as the “great outage.” Millions of Skype Internet phone users worldwide couldn’t make calls — or were dropped in mid-conversation — because of a network connection failure that began about 9 a.m. on Dec. 22. It marked the second time this year that the popular, low-cost calling service was hit with a major outage, and this one was more widespread than the two-day disruption in 2007.

Originally posted at: http://ip-telephony.tmcnet.com/topics/ip-telephony/articles/131164-chinese-authority-restricting-voip-services-including-skype.htm

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