No more Skyping in China

After having already banned Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the Chinese government has now decided to outlaw Skype, as well. The move, announced in the People’s Daily, means that all Internet phone services will now be considered illegal within the country, except for those offered by two state-operated telecom companies — China Unicom and China Telecom…

In 2007, Skype launched a joint venture with Hong Kong-based Tom Group, which has largely acceded to the Communist Party’s demands. Earlier this year, for example, the company cut ties with Google over the search engine’s ongoing battles with the People’s Republic. Skype China, meanwhile, came under criticism for helping the Chinese government keep an eye out for taboo words or phrases like ‘Falun Gong,’ or ‘Tibet.’

The new regulation will reportedly ban all calls made from computers to land lines, but it may still be legal for users to make computer-to-computer calls. The Chinese ministry of Industry and Information Technology has not yet announced when the ban will go into effect, and Skype declined to comment on “speculation” that its service would be blocked on the mainland anytime soon. “Users in China currently can access Skype via Tom Online, our partner,” a company spokeswoman affirmed.

It’s no secret that the Chinese government maintains tight control over the flow of information within its country, but experts say that its most recent move is intended primarily to protect state-run companies, and to curb Skype’s growth. “If the ministry hadn’t made this announcement, I think Skype would have offered its services in a very large scale,” said Wang Yuquan, a Beijing-based consultant at Frost and Sullivan. “Now, with the announcement, it can’t.”

Others, however, aren’t convinced that China will be able to completely root out competing online phone services. Kan Kaili, a professor at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications, told the Telegraph that a comprehensive Skype shut-down is “very unlikely.” Even if the government did manage to wipe out the service, Kaili argued, consumers could always turn to similar services, like Gmail Talk, or MSN.

“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,” Kaili said. “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.”