Could Skype, other VoIP get blocked in China?

Beijing says it will crack down on VoIP services, and while officials have yet to name which services will be hit, rumors continue to spread that Skype is one of them.

Skype still operates in China, and the Chinese government has not indicated publicly that it intends to ban the service there.

Yet a week after media sources in China and in the West erroneously reported that China had begun blocking Skype, rumors continue to surface that the software, which enables users to make phone calls via the Internet, will be banned. At a time when Twitter overflows with posts about the controversy, CNET received a tip that China's government was testing ways to block Skype and that officials would announce a ban next week.

A spokesman for Skype declined to comment.

CNET could not independently confirm the tip but the overall situation illustrates just how much uncertainty surrounds VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) technology in China. The speculation can be traced to two events. First, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) posted a notice to its Web site December 10 that said the government was working to "launch an effort to strike against illegal" VoIP services, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.

MIIT did not identify any VoIP service by name or mention when it would "strike."

Second, something that may have also fueled some of the rumors is that shortly after MIIT posted its note, Skype suffered a worldwide outage . Some people in China apparently didn't know a software glitch was the reason they couldn't access the service and blamed China's government.

Skype, which has plans to raise up to $100 million through an initial public offering, operates in China with the help of TOM Online, a Hong Kong-based media company. TOM Online insists that TOM-Skype operates legally. On Monday, the Journal reported that the service has reported no problems or given indication of any blocks by China. Some pundits, however, worry that China's government is interested in protecting state-owned telecommunications companies and their VoIP operations and that they perceive Skype and similar services as a threat.

 

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