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China cracks down on Internet cafes

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(IDG) -- Tough new laws imposed on Internet cafes in China could affect millions of people who use the shops as their link to the Internet.

The regulations from the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) and other government departments outlaw customers visiting sites that feature pornography, violence, gambling and content related to superstitions, according to a report this week on the Web site of the Business Weekly, a publication of the official China Daily newspaper. Using a computer at an Internet cafe to copy or publish material that harms government interests also is illegal, as are spreading viruses and hacking into databases.

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Enforcement of the laws falls to proprietors of the cafes, who are held responsible for violations and will face fines starting at 5,000 renminbi (US$604). They may also have their licenses revoked, after which they cannot reopen. Entrepreneurs running unlicensed Internet cafes will have their equipment confiscated and will face fines up to 30,000 renminbi as well as a multiple of their income from the cafe.

Internet cafes are booming in China, especially in business and university districts. Just over 20 percent of the 22.5 million Internet users in China access the Internet at such cafes, according to a January survey by the official China Internet Network Information Center. In addition to charging a fee for Internet access, the businesses serve food and drinks.

The new rules will restrict customers under 18 to visiting Net cafes during daytime hours on holidays and weekends, and those under 14 will have to be accompanied by adults.

Over the next three months, authorities will begin inspecting all such cafes. Police will look for violations, commerce officials will inspect permits and the quality of Internet cafes also will be monitored, according to the report. MII issued the regulations in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Culture and State Administration of Industry and Commerce.

The Chinese government has been stepping up efforts to control certain types of Internet use and is likely to take the new rules very seriously, according to one Internet analyst based in Beijing.

Internet access in China "has become a lot more like surfing the Internet back in 1995," as more Web sites are blocked by the government, said Matt McGarvey, an analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC).

However, the difficulty of accessing certain sites won't keep Chinese from flocking to the Internet, where they overwhelmingly seek out domestic sites, he added.

"It makes it a very domestic market," McGarvey said.

Foreign companies hoping to enter the market still have opportunities to compete, but the crackdown on Internet cafes is a reminder that the country is crisscrossed with licensing requirements and content restrictions.

"E-marketplaces and e-businesses looking to engage with China really need to conform to China's Internet regulations," McGarvey said.

IDC is a division of International Data Group Inc. (IDG), the parent company of IDG News Service.



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