Reuters | Sep 1, 2010 | 7:07pm IST
India on Wednesday launched a clampdown on major Internet communications firms, including Google and Skype, and began accessing some BlackBerry traffic in a campaign driven by security fears. Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said notices were being sent to Google and Skype asking them to set up servers in India and allow access to web data that officials fear could be misused by militants. Several other countries, most of them in the Middle East, have raised concerns that the BlackBerry might be used to aid terrorism or peddle pornography. But India could be the first to act against firms such as BlackBerry maker RIM, setting a precedent that could hurt companies with a reputation built on system security. Such moves could also impact the shape of India’s mobile phone market, the world’s fastest-growing, and possibly hand gains to Apple Inc and Nokia, BlackBerry’s two biggest smartphone rivals in India.
Pillai’s comments come after a weeks-long standoff between India and BlackBerry over a workable way for the government to monitor its data. India has said it wants the means to fully track and read BlackBerry communications. RIM won a reprieve this week after the government said the smartphone company had offered some solutions to access data which it was studying. India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said RIM had begun giving India access to its secure data from Wednesday. "Discussions for technical solutions for further access are continuing and the matter will be reviewed within 60 days," Chidambaram said in a statement. A Google spokeswoman based in India said: "We have not received any communication on this issue from the government. If and when we do, we will review and respond."
Google Inc said users of Gmail will now be able to call telephones directly from their email, putting it in direct competition with Web calling service Skype and more traditional operators such as AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications. While Google had already offered computer-to-computer voice and video chat services, it said that starting on Wednesday it will now allow calls to home phones and mobile phones directly from Gmail for the first time. Google promised free calls to U.S. and Canadian phones from Gmail for the rest of this year and said it would charge low rates for calls made to other countries. For example it said calls to Britain, France, Germany, China and Japan would be as low as 2 cents per minute.
Analysts said the service would likely be a bigger competitive threat to services like Skype’s than to traditional phone companies, which have already been cutting their call prices in recent years in response to stiff competition. “This is a risk to Skype. It’s a competitor with a pretty good brand name,” said Hudson Square analyst Todd Rethemeier. Skype, which owned by private equity firms and eBay Inc and planning a $100 million initial public offering, has long allowed consumers to make calls from computers to phones. Skype became popular by first offering free computer-to-computer voice and video services. Like Skype, Rethemeier said the Google service will likely be much more popular among U.S. consumers making international calls, than among people calling friends inside the country. “Calling is so cheap already that I don’t think it will attract a huge amount of domestic calling. It could take some of the international market,” he said. Continue reading
On Thursday, the Indian government became the latest of several nations that have threatened to cut off Research In Motion’s encrypted BlackBerry email and instant messaging services if the Canadian company does not address national security concerns. India has set an Aug 31. deadline for RIM. It wants access in a readable format to encrypted BlackBerry communication, on grounds it could be used by militants. Pakistani-based militants used mobile and satellite phones in the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. India’s demands follow a deal with Saudi Arabia, where a source said Research In Motion agreed to give authorities codes for BlackBerry Messenger users. The United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Algeria also seek access. Officials say RIM had proposed tracking emails without sharing encryption details, but that was not enough.
Google Inc., AT&T Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc. executives met behind closed doors over the weekend with Federal Communications Commission officials in efforts to resolve a dispute over U.S. Internet regulation. The rare Saturday session reflected attempts to reach a compromise on net-neutrality rules that would govern how phone and cable companies providing Internet connections treat Web traffic such as Google’s YouTube videos and Skype Technologies SA’s free phone calls. The companies and senior FCC aides have been holding the private meetings since June, according to disclosure statements on the agency’s website. The FCC may be negotiating a “secret deal” that would keep Chairman Julius Genachowski from fulfilling President Barack Obama’s pledge to back net neutrality, said Josh Silver, president of the Washington-based advocacy group Free Press. The agency may be about to “abdicate its responsibility to protect Internet users,” Silver said in an e-mailed statement. “We are fully committed to preserving the free and open Internet,” Jen Howard, an FCC spokeswoman, said yesterday. The long-running fight over net neutrality has pitted cable and phone companies that say they need leeway to protect the performance of their networks against content providers and advocacy groups that say the communications companies may favor their own online offerings or those of partners.
FCC Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus is leading the meetings with a core group of six industry representatives. Among them are Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president of Dallas-based AT&T; Tom Tauke, executive vice president of New York-based Verizon; Richard Whitt, telecommunications and media counsel for Mountain View, California-based Google; and Christopher Libertelli, senior director of Luxembourg-based Skype. All six participants declined to comment publicly on the talks. Questions being hashed out include whether Web providers can boost delivery of some content, at the cost of slowing other traffic, and whether rules should apply to increasingly popular Web applications on mobile phones, according to the disclosure filings on the FCC website that summarize the topics discussed and name the participants. Lazarus also has met with public-interest groups including Silver’s, Howard said in an e-mail. The sessions, held in conference rooms at the FCC’s Washington headquarters, are properly disclosed in subsequent public filings, as are all such meetings with agency staff, she said. Continue reading