Recent reports from China indicate that the country’s government is clamping down on what it terms “illegal” IP telephony systems such as Skype.
However, it is not quite clear at this stage whether the VOIP provider is actually a target. In a statement issued through China’s MIIT (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology), government officials said:
“Currently, our ministry is working with relevant departments on launching an effort to strike against illegal VoIP services, and we are collecting clues from the public about illegal VoIP cases.”
The MIIT also asked people to report services like this and has set up a hotline enabling members of the public to call and provide information. The notice did not mention any VoIP provider in particular so far.
Although Skype is well known, it is not the only IP telephony provider in the country, but it is one of the biggest. It operates in China openly in partnership with TOM Group Ltd, a Hong Kong based media company owned by multi-billionaire Li Ka-shing. The venture, which is known as Tel-Online Ltd., claims that over 88 million people have registered as users, although according to business records filed by Skype in the USA, a mere two million of these connect each month.
The move is seen by some as a measure to protect carriers owned by the State, as other services that could be affected include Gmail Talk and UUCall. They join the long list of banned internet sites based in the west, which includes Facebook, Hotmail, Foursquare, YouTube and Twitter.
Professor Kan Kaili of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications said:
“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.”