Apparently. French prosecutors have been asked to investigate Microsoft’s Skype because of its failure to register in the country as a telecoms operator, in the latest attempt by France to control the activities of global internet companies. In a statement on Tuesday, the telecoms regulator Arcep said that it had contacted the Paris public prosecutor after the instant messenger group ignored “several requests to declare itself as an electronic communications operator”.
So what exactly does Microsoft/Skype do to warrant being called a telecoms operator? Well we all know about the software that they distribute for free, but that is just software, so where is the telecom operation, Arcep said the fact that Skype allowed its users to make voice calls to fixed line and mobile numbers in France meant that it provided a telephone service, and therefore had an obligation to allow emergency calls and to allow French police and security services to monitor its voicemail traffic when legally required.
So because Skype owns some boxes that sit between the internet, provided by whichever ISP that might be and the public telephone service, that makes Skype a telecoms operator, even though they don't actually own any wires.
Now that is patently absurd. Way back when in one of my first banking jobs, I had some involvement with a message transmission system, a bit like SWIFT, but connecting to the telex network (I said it was a long time ago), international leased lines and a whole host of internal networks and computers. The network of message switches owned no external wires but we connected to lots of them all over the world in many different countries. Diod that make us a telecom operator? Of course not.
Mind you, the French authorities description would fit the ever growing network at Chateau Masterley (latest count 4 desktops, 5 laptops, various handhelds and wifi-enabled phones, broadband @ > 75Mbps and a phone line for backup). So that makes me a French telecoms operator.
And so is my wife.