A question that is going around in France and undoubtedly elsewhere is whether or not companies like Skype and other Internet phone services are telecommunications operators. These firms use voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) to allow conversations and video chats or meetings over the Internet.
While it is not actually making a phone call, you are having a conversation with another person.
France has been asking Microsoft’s Skype to register as a telecommunications operator. To date, Skype has not done so. In a recent statement, Microsoft said it has shared with the French authorities its view “that Skype is not a provider of electronic communications services under French law.”
Microsoft said it would continue to work with ARCEP in a constructive fashion.
AECEP is the French regulator, Autorite de Regulation des Communications Eletroniques et des Postes – an electronic communications regulatory authority. It says that if Skype can offer voice communications from a smartphone or computer, then it’s a service which constitutes furnishing a telephone service to the public.
The reason for establishing companies that provide VoIP as telecommunications operators is so companies like Skype would be subject to certain obligations under French law, such as routing emergency calls.
Another law would allow French authorities to legally wiretap calls.
The New York Times has reported that on March 12, 2013, French regulators asked prosecutors to investigate Skype over its failure to register as a telecommunications operator.
Microsoft has come under some pressure from digital rights groups as well. They are concerned over how the data that is collected by Skype is shared with advertisers and law enforcement authorities.
Microsoft acquired Skype from eBay for $8.5 billion in 2011, and currently claims to globally have hundreds of millions of users.
The agency began demanding that Skype complies with French law since April 2012. This comes from Jean-Francois Hernandez, a spokesman for ARCEP. Hernandez said there were questions at the European level about the regulation of these companies.
More specifically, questions on data privacy and taxation.
Hernandez said, “It’s about the fact that when you act as a French operator that you have to register as an operator.”
French telecommunications companies are also trying to get VoIP companies to comply with the law. France Telecom’s chief executive, Stephane Richard, has also been extremely critical, holding that companies like Skype enjoy an unfair advantage over the established companies that are required to transport their rivals’ data without sharing in the revenue.
We’ll have to see how the French prosecutors handle this and what steps they are prepared to take. Since this already has European interest, how will France’s decision affect other countries?
In recent weeks, Skype has come under pressure for its links to China. Some privacy groups believe this link could be used to spy on and censor its users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), among others, wanted Microsoft to provide details on the relationship between Skype and China based TOM Online.
They want to understand the surveillance and censorship capabilities that users may be subject to.
TechZone360 Contributing Writer
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