China gives the Telecommunications Catalogue a thirteen year face lift - but does it really capture all the new technologies?

On 28 December 2015, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology ("MIIT"), China's telecoms and Internet regulator, issued the revised Classification Catalogue of Telecommunications Businesses (2015 Edition) (the "2015 Catalogue"). The long-awaited 2015 Catalogue will come into effect on 1 March 2016. A draft which included some of the main changes to the 2015 Catalogue was circulated for public comments in 2013 ("2013 Draft Catalogue"), but this is the first official 'face lift' since the 2003 version (the "2003 Catalogue"). Thirteen years is a huge gap in technology terms, and the 2003 Catalogue had become seriously out of touch with the latest technologies, leading to a disconnect between the services described in it and the market it purported to regulate.

The 2015 Catalogue retains the general classifications set forth in the People's Republic of China Telecommunications Regulations ("Telecommunications Regulations"). Regulated services requiring a telecoms business operating permit (here a "Permit", also sometimes called a "license") are divided into basic telecommunications services ("BTS") and value-added telecommunications services ("VATS"). Within these categories are sub-classifications into Type I and Type II services. The 2015 Catalogue maintains this framework, but does revise the description of certain services and moves some services from one sub-category to another. In short, there has been incremental change, rather than the radical overhaul the thirteen-year time lapse would appear to have merited.

In this note we list and discuss some key revisions and new developments in the 2015 Catalogue, especially as they relate, among other things, to hot topics such as:

  • cloud computing;
  • e-commerce;
  • content distribution networks (a point of particular relevance for offshore content providers who hire a Chinese onshore company to cache data in China for ease of delivery onshore);
  • resale of cellular mobile services;
  • continuing uncertainty as to when an Internet Content Provider ("ICP") Permit is necessary; and
  • call centre services.

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