China is going after Internet phone services such as Skype in a move to protect the country’s state-owned telephone companies, causing alarm among consumers who rely on cheap Internet calls.
A notice by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on its website this month says it’s working to fight “illegal Internet phone services” but doesn’t specify any actions.
Experts say companies like Skype operate in a legal gray area and that the notice is a warning to them not to grow too big or to challenge the state-owned telecoms.
China, which Thursday announced its number of Internet users rose to 450 million this year, also has a strong interest in exercising tight control over information, and Skype has been a popular tool with activists and others who want to share information relatively freely.
The ministry’s move, however, also has business in mind. China has said only state-owned telecoms China Telecom and China Unicom have the right to offer Internet phone services for calls that link telephones and computers.
But few do. The country’s major telecoms have been offering Internet phone services only on a trial basis in four cities, according to Kan Kaili, a director of China VoIP & Digital Telecom, a company that has offered Internet phone services. That leaves the market to the hundreds of small-scale companies have sprung up.