Skype faces probe by French prosecutors

French prosecutors are going to investigate Microsoft's Skype's unit at the behest of telecoms regulator Arcep, which accused Skype of failing to register as a telecoms operator.

Arcep said Skype enables users to make voice calls to fixed and mobile numbers in France and elsewhere, and has a legal obligation in France to allow emergency calls and permit the legal interception of calls, according to Reuters.

Despite being requested on several occasions since April 2012 to declare the company as an "electronic communications operator," Luxembourg-based Skype has not responded, according to Arcep.

French law does not necessitate a telecoms operator to obtain administrative authorisation, Arcep told the New York Times, but "only a prior declaration." However, failure to follow the law is a criminal offence, and Arcep said it was turning the matter over to Paris state prosecutors.

Microsoft said it told French authorities that its view is "that Skype is not a provider of electronic communications services under French law" and that it would "continue to work with Arcep in a constructive fashion." Robin Koch, a Microsoft spokesman in Brussels, declined to comment further, according to the NYT.

France Telecom has been critical of VoIP service providers, with its CEO Stephane Richard claiming that these companies have an unfair advantage over those that have invested in building the network infrastructure. France Telecom told the NYT earlier this week: "We believe that this represents a positive first step toward a more balanced regulatory environment that encompasses the activity of over-the-top players."

Of note, existing European Union law does not consider Skype and similar VoIP-based services to be telecoms operators. Skype grew its international traffic by 44 per cent in 2012, more than twice the volume growth achieved by all the phone companies in the world combined, according to a February report from TeleGeography. The report found that global Skype usage is now equivalent to over one-third of all international phone traffic, Skype's highest level ever.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this New York Times article

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