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China Telecom Blocking Skype Calls 297

Posted by Zonk
from the no-freebies dept.
Retrospeak writes "According to a Reuters report China is starting to block Skype service in Shenzhen, an affluent southern city of China. Local Chinese media report that China Telecom has plans to eventually block the service throughout its coverage area nationwide. Could this have something to do with the fact that China Telecom charges close to $1 per minute for calls to United States and Europe?" From the article: " A China Telecom spokesman had no comment on the reports about the Shenzhen blockage, but gave a broader view. 'Under the current relevant laws and regulations of China, PC-to-phone services are strictly regulated and only China Telecom and (the nation's other fixed-line carrier) China Netcom are permitted to carry out some trials on a very limited basis,' he said."
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China Telecom Blocking Skype Calls

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  • China Telecom is pretty smart to be blocking the Skype service, even though ethically I think it is not right to be blocking a user's internet connection experience like this. User's pay for an internet connection, expecting to be able to use it for many various purposes, and not have certain "features" blocked, but then again, this is not America either.

    Here in America, at least we have the FCC and other governing bodies telling big business what they are allowed to do and what they are forbidden to do, and the majority of time the rules are followed at least. I know a while back that some major ISPs tried to block Vonage on their systems but after a major outcry from their subscribers this was changed quickly.

    China has always been known to be a government that censor's free speech and tries to limit what it's citizens have access to. I am sure that their email systems are all monitored with anti-government emails being filtered out or those sending/receiving these emails being placed on watch lists, and am sure that each citizen's web surfing habits are monitored as well.

    This is just another example of why I am glad to live here in the United States of America. We may complain about things from time to time, but at least we do have more freedom of information and able to know more, then most other countries out there. If my Vonage was blocked by my ISP, I would be contacting Road Runner in a hurry, and getting things straight, something that as an American we can take care of. I'm glad to not be helpless like the majority of private citizens in China are.

    I wonder if this is proven to be a successful triumph on China Telecom's part, if it will help spur other ISP's in various countries around the globe to take a part in this as well. Voice over IP has been a wonderful blessing to many around the world, being used by many to reach other's in distant countries, at a far cheaper cost then a normal voice call would cost... hope this doesn't catch on and cause VOIP as a whole to start being shut down outside of America.

    Hopefully, Skype can just one-up the Chinese, and change the way their system works, to more easily get around the blockage, as well as having the system be more intelligent in finding connections, bypassing any blocking measures that China Telecom might try to implement.

    I'm not a lawyer, and curious about the legal implications of this. I know that with China being a communist nation, that the people probably have no rights, but could Skype turn around and have a lawsuit against China Telecom, for "obstruction of service" or "tampering with service" which is essentially what they are doing?

    • Nope (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dreamchaser (49529) on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:54PM (#13523406) Homepage Journal
      I'm not a lawyer, and curious about the legal implications of this. I know that with China being a communist nation, that the people probably have no rights, but could Skype turn around and have a lawsuit against China Telecom, for "obstruction of service" or "tampering with service" which is essentially what they are doing?

      It's hard enough to sue a sovereign nation for violating it's *own* laws, let alone over something like this. IANAL either, but I can tell you that a snowball would have a better chance lasting in hell than Skype would have in winning such a suit.
      • IANAL either, but I can tell you that a snowball would have a better chance lasting in hell than Skype would have in winning such a suit.

        I dunno.

        Does China Telecom interoperate with U.S. LD carriers? And, if so, might there perhaps be grounds for a U.S.-based venue because China Telecom does business in the U.S.?

        LD charges are distributed among carriers, and depending on how that is done, there may be China Telecom assets in the U.S. that could be siezed.

        Yeah, it's a long shot, but I think a bit bet

        • You clearly don't work in the telecom industry.

          • Re:Nope (Score:3, Informative)

            by ScrewMaster (602015)
            Yeah ... I can just see SBC helping Skype out with this one.

            The big boys would just as soon see Skype and Vonage and all the rest of this newfangled foolishness simply disappear. That's apparently true in China as well as the U.S.
    • This is just another example of why I am glad to live here in the United States of America.

      You know, it's fine if you want to be glad that you don't live in China, but you should at least recognize that being better than China when it comes to human rights is kinda like bragging that you're not the stupidest kid on the short bus.
    • This is just another example of why I am glad to live here in the United States of America. We may complain about things from time to time, but at least we do have more freedom of information and able to know more, then most other countries out there.

      I think you missed this story [slashdot.org].
    • Despite all of the 'dot-com' excitement and digital change in the past twenty years in the West, we tend to forget that China is still under the political control of the Communist Party. Even with all the talk about serving the people and all of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist political theory, the communist party is going to be the most backward, reactionary, brutal, and oppressive institution in any country that is still run by communists.
      I don't wish to sound like a old cold-war, earth-burnin
      • we tend to forget that China is still under the political control of the Communist Party.

        Well, true, but this story has nothing to do with that, it's just about good old robber-baron style capitalism, big companies who are well-connected with the government abusing the rights of consumers to protect their profits.

    • I know that with China being a communist nation...

      China is NOT a communist nation. It is an authoritarian nation. Big difference there. In other words, The authorities are asserting their authority. Tell me something new. It happens all over the planet. We don't need to single them out. We use IP law to do precisely the same thing. It all depends on the spin that's put upon it. You can use censorship to protect property or one's power over others. It makes no difference. It's still censorship. Your entire
      • China is NOT a communist nation.

        China is a country ruled by communists. Hair-splitting over whether they're a "communist nation" or not is pointless.

        -jcr
        • China is a country ruled by communists. Hair-splitting over whether they're a "communist nation" or not is pointless

          No, it's a huge difference. Maoist China was a communist nation ruled by communists. Modern China is essentially a capitalist nation ruled by communists. North Korea is about the only real "communist nation" left.

        • The grandparent poster is correct. China is only nominally tied to Maoism at this point, and is probably closer to a mild version of fascism. They have local elections but an unelected national government. They are allowing private ownership of property, a growing free market, increasing disparity of wealth etc. Some industries are still government owned.

          The ruling party might be called 'Communist' but they sure don't act like it.
      • > The authorities are asserting their authority. Tell me something new. It happens all over the planet. We don't need to single them out. We use IP law to do precisely the same thing. It all depends on the spin that's put upon it. You can use censorship to protect property or one's power over others. It makes no difference. It's still censorship. Your entire post sounds a little like a 1950s propaganda piece.

        No it's not the same as IP law at all. Just because a nation enforces *any* type of law, doesn't

    • This is just another example of why I am glad to live here in the United States of America. We may complain about things from time to time, but at least we do have more freedom of information and able to know more, then most other countries out there.

      You'll be suprised how many countries there is actually out there.

      *Most* countries have the same body of regulators, have you heard of this thing called the UN? Check it out same time, you'll find a lot of countries "doing the right thing" in terms of freedom
    • by Detritus (11846) on Friday September 09, 2005 @10:08PM (#13524018) Homepage
      Don't ignore the fact that the USA's Department of Justice has the perverse idea that since an accident of technology (circuit-switched telephony) made it possible to monitor telephone calls, that situation should continue, regardless of changes in technology. They now view that capability as a "right", forcing others to build backdoors into their systems. It would be trivial to add strong link encryption, and end-to-end encryption for on-network calls, to modern cellular phone systems. Why don't we have it in the USA? Ask the FCC, DoJ and NSA.
    • Here in America, at least we have the FCC and other governing bodies telling big business what they are allowed to do

      Whee! They have that in China too.

      In fact, China Telecom is the government. Or vice versa.

      It's pretty meaningless to talk about things like consumer choice or business regulation in China. The government is essentially communist, and even though things appear "free market" in essence nothing happens in China without the government's approval and, in fact, urging.

      This is not a matter of profit
  • by gearmonger (672422) on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:39PM (#13523332)
    Now if we could somehow get a US company to pay Chinese workers $2 per hour to make Skype handsets for sale in China, then we might have a deal on our hands. Anyone?
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:41PM (#13523335)
    China Telecom charges close to $1 per minute for calls to United States and Europe

    Boy, it has come down then. When I was in China a few years ago it was $2/minute to the USA. It was a bargain to get to Japan and have calls cost only $1/minute.

    Australia, last December by comparison was about 4 cents/minute on a phone card.

    • If you have Vonage with a routerphonethingie, you take your local calling area wherever you are on the network. If you take your New York Vonage router with you to China, you can make local calls to New York. Calls to China, not surprisingly, are long distance.

      Just one more way that VOIP is changing the face of telecommunications.

      • The whole point of this article is that China could start blocking this as well. Just because they're talking about Skype doesn't mean they won't make inroads to any other popular VOIP provider/protocol.

        I'm wondering - if they're wanting to be restrictive, why don't they deny all but http access out of the country? Seems like they're gonna get to this point....
    • Hmmm - China Tel charges between US$0.04 and US$1.40 for a one minute call to a US landline and between US$0.12 and US$3.40 per minute to a US cellphone number.

      The cheaper rates are available if you agree to a contract - much like everywhere else.

      But China Tel is not the only game in town - there are literally hundreds of resllers out there each specialising in a service or destination country.

      I bought a card last week allowing me to send 3,000 SMS text msgs for a total of US$4.00
  • by gunpowda (825571) on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:42PM (#13523343)
    It's a legitimate, functional technology. This is all too reminiscent of the media companies' fear of a threat to their established business models.

    Regardless of any efforts to block its use, once people realise the advantages of VOIP, organisations, whether Governments or companies who want to enforce some kind of monopoly, will have to embrace this worthwhile development.

    • by dreamchaser (49529) on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:47PM (#13523361) Homepage Journal
      I'm not sure how you think the Chinese government will 'have to embrace' anything. If they want to block IP telephony they can and will. What does the legitimacy or functionality of the technology have to do with what a dictatorial, repressive government can and will do?
      • What does the legitimacy or functionality of the technology have to do with what a dictatorial, repressive government can and will do?

        Slashdot appears to be messed up. Didn't you mean to post that on this story [slashdot.org]?

        Oh, come on. Nobody was going to get it if I modded your post as funny, so I had to reply instead.
    • Do you think China Telecom is blocking it to maintain a high profit margin, or do you think that $1/minute reflects the cost of eavesdropping on every conversation? I would imagine China blocking VoIP not due to cost, but because they want to control the information.
      • I would imagine China blocking VoIP not due to cost, but because they want to control the information.

        You're exactly right. There is only one thing in the world more valuable and useful than money. Power.
    • It's a legitimate, functional technology. This is all too reminiscent of the media companies' fear of a threat to their established business models.

      Regardless of any efforts to block its use, once people realise the advantages of VOIP, organisations, whether Governments or companies who want to enforce some kind of monopoly, will have to embrace this worthwhile development.


      That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Get away from your keyboard for a little while and try to run a business. You'll find that o
  • If they aren't set up to tap IP telephony, then they'll want to block it until they are.

    It's the way of such governments.
    • Well... I have a good friend who is starting to do business in China, (specifically in the IT business) and from what I have heard, you don't just walk into China and set up shop. Any company that wants to play in China's market has to do it through

      1.) The Government,
      2.) A Chinese Big Business, or
      3.) some nefarious underground type deal, (mafia-ish).
      Profit ???

      Basically, he has told me that if you try to skip this crucial relational step, they'll pirate, steal and plunder your market share there int
      • So, essentially, China and the US are on equal ground here.

        The mechanisms are (on the surface) a bit different, but the list of allies that you need in order to be succesful are strikingly similar.

    • by pv2b (231846) on Friday September 09, 2005 @08:48PM (#13523666)
      Hm, interesting that. Skype uses encryption that (supposedly) makes it impossible (or at least very hard) to listen in on Skype calls. Maybe that's why China wants to block it?

      Although, this would be no reason for them to block standard SIP, which typically is unencrypted. Although SIP is a generic enough solution to support encryption at some layer, most existing VoIP solutions don't do this. I know that my IP telephony at home doesn't use any encryption, but I'm not that concerned about it, since neither would a standard POTS line if I were to have one of those.

      But then again, when you're not raking in $x/minute for phone calls, but instead routing IP traffic at your own expense, your budget for sniffing IP telephone traffic gets that much smaller. Why invest in new technology to eavesdrop on VoIP calls when you can just maintain the status quo by adding some new rules to the Great Firewall of China?
    • Is anyone surprised that a government that crushes their children's heads with tanks [wikipedia.org] is uncomfortable with the private exchange of ideas amongst it's citizens?
  • by A Dafa Disciple (876967) * on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:47PM (#13523363) Homepage
    Could this have something to do with the fact that China Telecom charges close to $1 per minute for calls to United States and Europe?

    As the article stated:
    China routinely blocks access to Web sites on politically sensitive subjects such as the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square

    I'd say it has more to do with the fact that people (mainly Falun Gong [falundafa.org] practitioners) like to use services such as Skype to tell Chinese mainlanders, who don't have access to free (as in speech) media, the truth about the persecution [clearwisdom.net] that's going on there.
    • These articles always use the 1989 Tiananmen square event to gain sympathy in the US.

      How about using the "1997 Hong Kong handover" event instead. That's communist society gobbling up a capitalist society.

    • Look. Tianamen was in 1989. It was bad. Democracy activists were killed. Falung Gong has nothing to do with democracy -- it is no different than any other cult -- the leaders are out to make lots of money by tricking the gullible peasants into joining. Crap about the "third eye" is not something anyone with any knowledge of biology is going to fooled by. I also doubt that many people who believe in third eyes are likely to be computer users.
      • Hmmm, I watch Sunday morning TV and its full of preachers claiming to heal the sick, spouting crap about faith and the Holy Spirit.

        China's government fears its people. It fears the power they might have. It gives the rising middle class the baubles of the West; cell phones, computers and cars, because it hopes that will satiate any desire for true freedom, the freedom to call the autocrats evil or to believe in a third eye. It is a paranoid, wicked government run by self-serving technocrats.

      • I also doubt that many people who believe in third eyes are likely to be computer users.

        Mystical religious beliefs are not inconsistent with technical skills. A lot of American fundies are engineers and such. Anyway, the Falun Gong have used technology to very good effect. Several times they've hijacked satellite TV transmissions in China and made their own broadcasts and they're very active on the Internet.

    • falun gong is either a CIA-run propaganda machine or a cult like any other but where the cult leader is a disaffected (but now wealthy) Chinese person living in America.

      Or both.

      Either way, its got nothing to do with democracy or any freedom other than the freedom to send money to some guy in America.
      • A couple years ago I was in Chicago at the federal courthouse to file some paperwork (ironicly in a free speech case i lost; judge posner said it's ok to put people in jail for speech of the "Vote for Smith" variety. http://majors.blogspot.com./ [majors.blogspot.com] )
        Outside the courthouse were some Fulan Gong folks, providing information about the torture and oppression they face in China. I found them persuasive and reasonable - basically nice little old ladies, with solid evidence supporting their claims. Possibly I
  • by quadong (52475) on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:56PM (#13523418) Homepage
    Anyone have any idea how they are identifying SkypeOut traffic? Skype makes a pretty serious effort to be hard to identify. Do they just block the login server?

    • Wow, 2/3rds of the way down the page and I finally get an interesting response. :)

      Yeah I'm wondering the same thing too. My guess is that Skype was just caught unaware and was sitting there with its ass in its hands like the original Napster service was. Big centralized login server, easy to block. "Problem" for the Chinese, solved.

      VoIP isn't just going to go away, although Skype as a corporation probably will, at least from the Chinese market. But there are lots of ways to disguise an internet phone call -
      • Skype knew this was coming: they have enough people with clues who've worked in telephony and web content providing and dealing with the unconstitutional US government restrictions on the RSA encryption at the core of their technology that their lawyers and techas *must* have thought about it.

        Avoiding the political censors is a laudable and reasonable goal, but getting clever this way makes it that much tougher to have a real phone policy in a secure environment where you are *not* supposed to have un-logge
    • Yeah. I work in the media revision department of the Chinese Federal Govornment.

      We block the signals by running iptraf on a 486 Linux box connected to the China -> California gateway. Iptraf, as you may know, is ncurses-based, so we have a REALLY BIG SCREEN on it so we can see all the connections going on.

      Then, we have a bunch of short, four-eyed people on ladders in front of the screen watching the connections. Whenever someting nefarious happens, they scream out port numbers to one of our typists who f
  • not because of money (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Actually, they are blocking because Skype is more or less a peer to peer protocol, and it's very hard to monitor the conversations.

    Anyway, this is the day that the great firewall really becomes useful (in a painfully annoying way)

    by the way, calls from china to the US are not 1 dollar per minute. nobody uses those services. everyone buys IP cards for maybe 2 cents a minute or so. FYI
  • What I really love about these "Telco_X Blocking VOIP" stories is that Telco_X is already using, or at the very least implementing, this technology to make your calls cheaper for them. The only circuit that still exists is the one between your house and the local Telco_X exchange. Everything else is or will very shortly be packet switched.
  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:57PM (#13523427)
    Are you SURE it's blocked? I have colleagues in Shenzhen and HK and just finished a skype conf call with several of them and didn't have any issues getting through. Granted, it wouldn't surprise me given China's often ham handed attempts to control communications infrastructure. But before we go accusing them of something that wouldn't be so surprising, let's make sure it's actually happening and not some temporary glitch. Cheers,
    • by wangxiaohu (736032) on Friday September 09, 2005 @08:45PM (#13523651) Homepage Journal
      This is true. I have my family in Shenzhen and I study in Canada. We phone each others on Skype frequently and found no problem. BTW, calling from China to Canada is about few cents per minutes, not $1.
      • i'm in china also and i buy IP cards to phone my Girlfriend in atlanta, i buy the cards off the street with printed price of 100rmb (i pay 25rmb) and i normally get ~60minutes.

        ((25/60)/8.09) = 0.051503914297486608982282653481665 usd/minute. of course its state run, but also think about atleast 4 million people using that service in this city (shanghai), but when i can't be fucked to go out and buy a card off the street i'll just fireup skype and hope it doesn't consume up all my processor io whilst i work a
  • by jjn1056 (85209) <jjn1056 @ y a h oo.com> on Friday September 09, 2005 @07:59PM (#13523444) Homepage Journal
    This is what happens when a fascist oligarchy adopts the worst aspects of capitalism.

    Funny, I was in Beijing two months ago and there was a HUGE billboard for Skype, right in the center of the business district.

    My guess is that they are just using a heavy hand to pressure skype into two things:

    1) handing over some money/bribes.
    2) making sure they can listen in on conversations
    3) They did something like this to Google a few years back. Even now google experiences outages all the time. I guess this is just the way the chinese gov't is used to doing business.

    Skype just has to figure out the right person to bribe and this will all go away.

  • ...Voice-Over-IP blocks *you*!
  • ...just get one of these revolutionary Skype-over-PSTN [google.co.uk] devices.
  • Lets see.. A sovereign state wants to regulate its telecommunications.. What is the problem here?
    • Yes, this is a problem. There are people there who are affected, people like you and me. Help them today, and they will perhaps help you tomorrow when *your* corporation-government gets funny ideas.
  • I never thought I'd say this, but China's leaders need to keel over and die due to 'natural causes', with the help of a few allied governments' militaries.

    I'm usually all for leaving other countries' governments alone, but I'm starting to feel like there's a certain threshold which you can stifle people's rights, and China is well past that and needs to be dismantled/reshaped.

    Btw, I should note, that I don't feel like this solely due to Skype - I could care less about skype.. Watching a country try and make
    • I'd like to clarify/add to what I said.. It's hillarious because not only is it hard to reconcile against reality, but it's like watching the meth lab down the street burning down and the people running it are trying to put it out with dixie cups filled with water.
  • We all know this is bad for the Chinese; however, this does effect us in several indirect ways.

    First it makes us more tolerant to abuses here in the USA (sorry non-USA folks out there). For example as the Patriot act erodes our freedom, we can be more tolerent because we see other governments abusing their constiuency even more. So we let the abuses slide since we can always say "at least its not as bad a China).

    Second it sets a precedent for the lobbyists to follow. Our telcom industry will say to the c
  • Pardon my ignorance on the subject, but I was under the impression that any type of packet blocking/filtering can be pretty easily overcome by simply masking the packets someway? (i.e. wrapping them in a different protocol via SSH tunnelling or something like that....) Again, I'm unclear on the details, but isn't something like this possible?

     
    • Without specific technical knowledge on the subject, in ignorance I will accept the probability that this is doable. It's irrelevant, though. Any technical workarounds you can conceive are trumped by the police and guns and torture. Would you trust your life and limb to SSH, given that your traffic doesn't even need to be decrypted to incriminate you (in China, I mean)? I doubt there is any way to encrypt traffic without making it obvious you are hiding something, especially something that would generat
  • Overreacting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FRiC (416091)

    I think this is just overreaction by Reuter and other slashdotters. Internet based phone is incredibly common in China, you can buy "IP Phone cards" that work with any phone for ridiculously cheap prices. (100 RMB cards selling for 50 RMB, plus buy one get one free.)

    Skype has always been somewhat blocked in China since they signed the agreement with tom.com. Sometimes buying credits directly from Skype.com doesn't work unless you're an existing user. Sometimes the entire skype.com site is blocked.

    As for pop

  • "If I'm blocked from attending a town hall meeting put on by my President because I'm a Democrat, I'm not very free."

    An this is exactly what happened in the US a few months ago.

    I do not have a link, but you must recall the woman who was denied entry in just this situation, because agents spotted her car with a democrats sticker on it parked several hundred yards down the road.

    THis china story is nothing but commercial dominance.

    Telecom in New Zealand have not blocked IP calls per sey, but have
  • Could this have something to do with the fact that China Telecom charges close to $1 per minute for calls to United States and Europe?"

    No, more likely it has to do with the fact that Skype calls and chats are encrypted [skype.com], preventing the controlling communist government and party from eavesdropping on their populace via their state-controlled telcoms. Certainly such a thing is absolutely unacceptable for the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Party Line (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:12AM (#13524862) Homepage Journal
    What do you expect the telco to do, let people share the resources equally? Pay what they can afford, get what they need? What do you think they're running in China, communism? Er...

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long

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