China cracks down on Internet phone services

China has pledged to restrict Internet phone services - a move that could affect thousands of businesses and individuals making cheap calls via web-based communications companies such as Skype.

"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 a circular posted online earlier this month.

In the brief notice, which did not offer details on the crackdown or a timetable for shutting down 'illegal' services, the ministry listed a telephone hotline for citizens to report any violations.

The ministry declined immediate comment when asked for clarification of the policy by AFP on Thursday.

The Beijing Morning Post on Thursday however quoted vice-minister Xi Guohua as saying only state-owned major Chinese telecommunications operators were licensed to provide Internet phone services linking telephones and computers.

Xi said communications between computers (PC-to-PC) remain open to all service providers in China, which has the world's biggest Internet population at 450 million.

That means some PC-to-phone services provided by firms including Skype, which are popular in China due to their low rates as compared with those of the country's major telecoms firms, could be banned under the ministry's new rules.

For example, 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 would cost at least 2.4 yuan per minute.

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, the report said.

It resumed business in February after moving its domain name to Hong Kong, it added.

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

Critics said the government move was meant to protect state-owned telecom operators, who are reluctant to promote the cheap service because it will marginalise their existing - lucrative - international call services.

"Overall this is to take further strong measures to protect the interests of state-owned monopolies," Kan Kaili, a professor at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, told AFP.

Such policies "clearly hurt consumers' interests and can easily spark public anger," he said.

On web portal Netease.com, users were already starting to complain, in comments posted under a report on the MIIT regulations.

"What benefits people is not legal. I really want to curse out loud," one angry user said.

The move may also be aimed at stemming phone scams under which thieves use web-based phone services to defraud consumers, changing the call origin number to pose as bankers, police or government officials, some Chinese reports said.

Kan speculated that the government also could be attempting to block VoIP services such as Skype that are difficult to monitor due to their high encryption levels.

Officials at Skype, which was founded in 2003 and now has 23 million users worldwide, were not immediately available to comment on the issue.

Skype - which channels voice, video and text conversations over the Internet - was hit by a major outage last week that left millions of users unable to use the service, due to technical problems.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Client IT Account Manager

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client IT Account Manager is ...

    Recruitment Genius: Windows Server Engineer - Compute Engineer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Compute Engineer role also ...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

    Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line IT Support / Senior Engineer / Support Analyst

    £24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor