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Russian telecom firms weigh in against Skype

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Russian businesses have banded together to lobby against VoIP services such as Skype, arguing that the technology poses a threat to national security, as well as their business.

The lobby, called the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, is working with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's political party to draft "legal safeguards" against VoIP services. It reckons 40 per cent of telephone calls could be completed using VoIP services by 2012.

For consumers, more widespread use of VoIP offers the prospect of much cheaper long-distance calls. Traditional service providers are fighting a rearguard action against the technology, running a campaign that is unashamedly protectionist.

"Without government restrictions, IP telephony causes certain concerns about security," Reuters reports a lobby press release as saying. "Most of the service operators working in Russia, such as Skype and Icq, are foreign. It is therefore necessary to protect the native companies in this sector and so forth."

Vitaly Kotov, Vice President of TTK, the telecoms division of state-owned Russian Railways, said that a free market for VoIP services in Russia will likely result in "a likely and uncontrolled fall in profits for the core telecom operators."

The group also argued that VoIP conversations frustrate lawful interception (wiretapping) by law enforcement agencies.

Valery Ermakov, deputy head of Russian mobile phone firm MegaFon, and a supporter of the lobby, supported the development of VoIP services by Russian firms. He denied suggestions that the efforts of Russian businessmen were anti-competitive. "MegaFon is interested in this market. We're interested in providing analogous services. We don't support limiting competition, but we want the market to be civilised," Ermakov told Reuters.

Russian telcos are far from unique is lobbying against VoIP technology. Four years ago Costa Rica's state-owned telecommunications monopoly sought to criminalise internet telephony in the country. More recently, the Indian government tried to prevent outsourcers and other IT businesses in India from sourcing their telecoms services from overseas IP Telephony firms such as Skype and Vonage. ®

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