Unregistered Skype gets French in a lather

Prosecutors in France are launching a probe into Microsoft's Skype internet phone software because it has not registered as an official telecoms operator.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 07 Nov 2013

In a statement yesterday, the French telecoms regulator, Arcep, said that it had been in touch with the public prosecutor in Paris because Skype has not complied with ‘several requests to declare itself as an electronic communications operator.’

Arcep says that because Skype allows users to make phone calls directly to fixed line and mobile phone numbers in the country means that it is a telecoms provider like any other, and therefore should also provide emergency services calling and open its systems to French police and other authorities to monitor voicemails recorded through its platform.

Skype has bluntly rejected Arcep’s claim about ‘requests’, saying: ‘We have engaged with Arcep in discussion over the last several months during which we shared out view that Skype is not a provider of electronic communications services under French law.’ Er, OK, if you say so...

It sounds like Arcep is attempting to deal with the growing problem of internet-based companies usurping the mobile and fixed line companies with data-fuelled telephony. In the UK, for example it is becoming common knowledge that the large mobile operators are suffering as instant message apps on smartphones eat into their SMS text message revenues. Some firms have tried to combat this with apps that allow users to make calls and text on their own contract, but using data services instead of cellular ones - this keeps the money in the operator contract.

In fact, the chief investment officer at Bronte Capital, which has a significant investment in Vodafone, is so nervous about the future of the company that he has suggested to the firm’s management that Vodafone should ‘sell itself’ to Verizon.

This is a novel approach to the 'should we, shouldn't we' debate about what Vodafone should do with its Verizon stake. It has a 45% stake in Verizon, but the latter has been such a runaway success that selling it off to help improve the balance should would be extremely tax heavy.

Still, it is apparently unlikely that EU law would actually result in France being able to successfully bring charges against Skype. So it’s back to the drawing board. For now.

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