The Google war of words

Robert Clark
25 Jan 2010

Last Thursday China said it hoped the Google issue would not become a political football.

On the weekend Chinese state media slammed the US’s control of the internet, claimed the US was behind a cyber-war in Iran and denied that China restricted internet freedom or engaged in hacker attacks.

In between was Hillary Clinton’s speech condemning China’s internet censorship and calling for a global campaign for a free internet.

Well, that didn’t take long.

The war of words is a pity because it’s time China had a debate not just on its censorship but its entire ham-fisted administration of the internet and telecoms.

Just last week for example, the State Council announced that trials would soon be underway on “integration” between telecom and cable TV networks. In most countries this has been a simple regulatory fix, where each sector was allowed to compete in the other.

But because it involves the intersection of the sensitive areas of internet, telecom and media, at least a dozen regulatory agencies are involved. It’s an issue that has tied up regulators for the past decade and will keep them busy for many more years.

The heavy hand of content and network governance often combines with local protectionism to restrict competition and coddle state oligopolies, to the detriment of local and foreign businesses and of course consumers.

Right on cue, we last week saw the eviction of the 3D version of Avatar from China’s cinema screens.

The US’s rhetorical barbs will not tear down the Great Firewall. Nor will they create a communications system that puts the consumers and competition ahead of Party. But at least the US efforts have turned the spotlight onto the unattractive face of the China internet.

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