MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s most powerful business lobby moved to clamp down on Skype and its peers this week, telling lawmakers that the Internet phone services are a threat to Russian businesses and to national security.
In partnership with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s political party, the lobby created a working group to draft legal safeguards against what they said were the risks of Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services.
VoIP software has used the Internet to let hundreds of millions of people talk long-distance for free, or at far cheaper rates than traditional service providers can offer.
At a meeting of the lobby this week, telecom executives portrayed the most popular VoIP programs like Skype and Icq as encroaching foreign entities that the government must control.
“Without government restrictions, IP telephony causes certain concerns about security,” the lobby’s press release said. “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.”
Skype was not immediately available for comment.
In a presentation posted on the lobby’s Web site, Vice President of TTK, a telecoms unit of state-owned Russian Railways, Vitaly Kotov, called on regulators to stop VoIP services from causing “a likely and uncontrolled fall in profits for the core telecom operators.”
Valery Ermakov, deputy head of Russia’s No.3 mobile phone firm MegaFon, drove the point home with a picture of two hands in handcuffs, the caption running, “protect investments and fight VoIP services.”
Delegates at the meeting also warned that it has been impossible for police to spy on VoIP conversations, Vedomosti business daily reported on Friday.
The lobby, called the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, forecast that 40 percent of calls could be made through VoIP services by 2012.
As an alternative to Skype and its peers, the telecom executives proposed creating VoIP services inside their own firms, which would then make them safely available to the Russian public.
“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 civilized,” Ermakov said.
TTK’s press service said on Friday that it will take until September for the relevant legal amendments to be drafted by the special committee, whose members include top telecoms executives and lawmakers from Putin’s United Russia party.
Editing by Rupert Winchester