Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 While it may be the case that the Chinese government has been supportive of provisioning Internet access to their citizens, this has not always been the case for earlier forms of information communication technology. Being a communist nation state, the incumbent elite class has typically had early access of new communication technology, reinforcing their economic power over the rest of the nation. In actuality, communication technologies such as telephony, radio and satellite have been in use in China for some time, but were only released to the general public much later. For the record, China already had telephones in the early decades of the 20th century, the first Chinese Communist Party (CCP) radio station was established in 1941, and the first television station in 1958 (Yan, 2000). In 1960, Beijing started exporting programming to foreign nations, while micro-cable transmission started in 1964. By the following year, China signed television programming exchange agreements with 27 countries, and satellite technology was used to transmit programming internationally in 1978 (Hong, 1998).

Comment Icon0 However, due to China’s coercive political principles and media policies, regular Chinese citizens were not allowed to listen to short-wave broadcasting from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Western nations. Television sets were not available in department stores until the 1980s, and even when citizens owned them at home, they were not permitted to watch foreign programs. Even later was the introduction of telephones to the general public. In the four decades of Communist governance, while telephones emerged in China sometime around the 1980s, it was not until the 1990s that the average Chinese families were given access to home phones (Yan, 2000). Within the same decade, satellite television was only accessible by the military, high-ranking government officials, privileged academics and the elite class of society. The reverse is true for Chinese civilians and even today, satellite dishes for individual households are prohibited. Those permitted include a few privileged organizations such as news agencies, hotels that house foreigners, large hospitals, and institutes directly under the supervision of the ministries. There have been cases where satellite dishes installed on the roofs of resident houses, used for receiving “foreign” television programs, are confiscated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) officers (Yan, 2000). Fortunately, unlike the distribution of earlier ICT, the Internet has been promoted for civilian use in a more ubiquitous manner. As of June 2009, China’s current Internet penetration stood at 25.5%, which accounts for a massive size of 338 million users (CNNIC, 2009).

Comment Icon0 Over time, broader changes became necessary and they were marked by four significant phases in China’s telecommunication reforms (Khan and Janjua, 2007). In the first phase, China started de-regulation in 1993, and China Unicom was incorporated in July 1994, while the Directorate General of Telecommunications (DGT) was registered as a company called China Telecom in April 1995. China Unicom is still administered by the Chinese government with shares of the Ministry of Electronic Industry (MEI), Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Electrical Power and 13 other state-owned institutions, including Chinese Academy of Sciences. All this time, China Unicom was still competing with China Telecom. In the second phase of regulation, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and Ministry of Electronic Industry were merged to form the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) in 1998. In March 1999, a breakup of the China Telecom introduced four companies, namely China Netcom Corporation (CNC) founded in August 1999, Jitong Company in March 2000, and China Railways Communications (CRC) in December 2000. This change helped privatize and fragment the telecommunication industry for greater competition. In the third phase, China was signed into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. At this point, China Telecom was further broken into two companies, namely China Telecom (south area) and CNC (north area) in May 2002, and competition started both in long distance as well as in local market. In 2003, the fourth phase marked the completion of the new Telecommunication Law, which included the formation of Regulatory Agency and Universal Service Fund. The draft was circulated among 42 government agencies (Bin and Taylor, 2004).

Comment Icon0 The Internet remained unregulated during the first few years of nationwide introduction in China. Eventually, the first set of regulations on the Internet was formally announced in 1996, with the ensuing years seeing several laws passed in order to tighten the government’s control over the Internet. In particular, a progressive surge in Internet-related regulations started from the October 2000 legislation, which was concerned with the involvement of foreign investments in the Internet sector and the responsibility of Internet Service Providers (ISP) over their websites. These ISPs were made to report any infractions to the authorities, and to provide them with the addresses of Internet users who have visited their sites during the past 60 days. A month later, another significant legislation regarding the news content and discussion forums was implemented. The December 2000 legislation specified that “spreading rumours, defamation or publishing harmful information, inciting the overthrow of the country’s government, the socialist system or a division of the country” should be deemed as cyber crime or cyber dissidence (Rights & Democracy, n.d.).

Comment Icon0 Currently, there are as many as 12 Chinese government agencies responsible for filtering the Internet. Wielding varying degree of regulatory power, these agencies include the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), Ministry of Information Industry (MII), State Council Information Office (SCIO), Central Propaganda Department (CPD), Ministry of Public Security (MPS), State Secrecy Bureau (SSB) and China’s Judiciary. In the light of prohibiting earlier ICTs such as satellite television, it would seem ironic that the Chinese government would open access to the Internet, only to regulate Internet use to an extreme degree. This has typically been understood as the authorities adopting a pragmatic approach towards the Internet as an utility. Guided by the principle of “guarded openness”, the government stands to benefit from the economic advantages offered through openness to global information, while realizing the need to guard against the harmful influences that the web may have on social values and national integrity (Zhao, 2008). The many possibilities of Internet-based communication, together with the inherent legislative deficiencies of a huge bureaucracy, make effective regulation of Internet content a truly formidable task for the Chinese government.

Chapter 4.3.0 – Telecommunication Law and Reforms

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