Sunday, January 16, 2005

China Fits Internet TV in Broadcast Model

The Great Firewall may be China's best know (technological) regulation to keep (ideological) control on the internet. With the advent of television to the internet in the form of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) the Chinese regulatory authorities try to strengthen their grip again. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) is said to fit IPTV into the current licensing scheme. As reported here SARFT "reiterated that Chinese regulations stipulate all radio and TV stations must be set up and overseen by state radio, film and television authorities at all levels. Non-government TV broadcasting is not permitted, Sarft said."

SARFT said this in reaction to a claim by a telecom operator that it would also provide content over broadband for IPTV. Content Provider licenses are only given to media organs that fall under the abovementioned regulation. Telecom operators are forbidden to provide content and may only receive Internet Services Provider licenses. A merging of the two licenses could trouble the controlling eye of what is broadcast over the internet. The Chinese government is eager to fit IPTV in the current broadcast model to sustain the same control as it has over traditional media.

Danwei concluded from the news that "There is no new technology here; what is happening is that SARFT wants to regulate streaming and downloadable media that already exists." I'm not sure if this claim is precise. What seems true is that a traditional model is mirrored on an emerging technology to sustain the interests of incumbent parties. In China these are the interests of the Communist Party, but in "free" markets this may be the interests of existing major media players. A recent example, not necessarily related to IPTV, comes forth from the WIPO Broadcast Treaty proceedings, in which settled media entities sought to regulate webcasting to their interests. There's a tension between traditional models and new technologies (the internet). The question is if the pressure of commerce will eventually set the internet (more) free. For China the answer may be yes, for here I'm less sure.


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