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Skype To Join China's Internet Graveyard Of Facebook, Flickr, YouTube & Google?

The Great Firewall of China is alive and well as companies like Google have been forced to relocate its operations to Hong Kong, and movers and shakers like Mark Zuckerberg while allowed to tour the country - is saddled with his social network being sequestered in "404 Not Found Territory" on China's Internet. But what about Skype - the Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) provider? Surely, China's Big Brother doesn't want to censor phone calls, as well?

Well, in a sense yes. But's its not the content of such phone calls the Chinese are concerned with so much, as it is with the loss of revenues its government-runned telecom services are losing as a result. The Chinese Ministry of Information and Technology issued a statement last week that is was collecting evidence against VoIP services in preparation for legal proceedings. And although the statement did not name Skype specifically, it's been widely assumed that the Internet telephony service is the one targeted.

Should China succeed in its aim, Skype would join the rank of a number of well-known Western internet companies in the online graveyard of the East - namely, Flickr, Youtube, in addition to Facebook and Google.

The alternative they offer a company like Skype is while blocking the service from the Internet to allow it to operate via state-owned providers such as China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom. Obviously, a no-win situation for Skype, as it would have to charge for services that have been heretofore free in other countries.

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.

The Telegraph reported that 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.

Professor Kan Kaili at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications said, "it is very unlikely that they will manage to shut Skype down… since children of Chinese government officials who are studying abroad, use these services to call home."

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.

Other countries like Panama have unsuccessfully tried to establish the same type of regulations with VoIP services. Since its difficult to enforce in practice it will be interesting to see if the Great Firewall of China can pull this one off.

So in the short term, we would have to conclude that the stories of Skype's death in China might be slightly over-exaggerated!


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Ron Callari
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