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State-run Web hub would filter sites

AN official for Telecom Cambodia (TC) on Tuesday indicated that the state-run company would seek to block access to Web sites it deems “inappropriate”, should it be granted control over the country’s domestic and international Internet exchange.

“If any Web site attacks the government or any Web site displays inappropriate images or pornography, or it’s against the principle of the government, we can block all of them,” said Chin Daro, TC’s deputy director, during an interview at the company’s offices. “If TC plays the role of the exchange point, it will benefit Cambodian society because the government has trust in us, and we can control Internet consumption.”

Government officials have long been looking to funnel all Internet service providers (ISPs) through a state-run central exchange point, and they have recently indicated that they plan to execute the change as soon as possible, according to industry insiders.

Officials from ISPs currently operating in the country have warned that the transfer could cripple Cambodia’s IT industry by increasing costs, and several have said that it could give the government undue influence over online content.

Javier Sola, secretary of the Information Communication Technology Association of Cambodia, said TC could end up wielding a “very dangerous” level of power if given a monopoly over the Internet exchange.

“You should only filter content that is against the law – content that a judge says is illegal,” he said.

“Everything else is just the opinion of somebody, and power to restrict that is very dangerous because it restricts freedom of information. Giving that type of control to the government is very dangerous.”

Chin Daro also said during the interview that he believed the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications was looking to grant the monopoly as soon as the necessary infrastructure was in place. Earlier this month, Mao Chakrya, the ministry’s director general, did not specify when the change would take place.

Sola noted that the ministry issued a prakas, or edict, last October that included a stipulation requiring all telecommunications companies to connect to TC, though this has not yet been enforced.

“Inter-network connection between all telecommunication operators shall be through a central centre of Cambodian Telecommunication,” the prakas says. Sola said he believed it refers to TC.

“They have created [the law] already,” Sola said. “It’s just not happening because ISPs are not complying.”

There are currently two private telecommunications companies, CIDC-IT and Finder, that provide free domestic Internet exchange (DIX), and ISPs have expressed alarm about TC’s intention to charge for the service.

Chin Daro confirmed that TC plans to charge, though he insisted that the company’s service would be cheaper for businesses and individual users because TC would be able to buy international Internet connections in bulk if it were providing service for all Internet service providers.

ISPs have also questioned that TC would provide an efficient service, but Lao Saroeun, TC’s director general, said Tuesday that such concerns stemmed from fears that they would lose income.

“Somebody who complains this and complains that just wants to avoid paying [fees], but we don’t take that seriously,” he said.

“The important thing is control. What they bring to ruin the country or the income of the country, we have to control.”

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