A new study released last Thursday titled Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005 traces some disturbing trends coming out of the Communist-controlled country. The report concludes that the Great Firewall of China (the massive Internet filtering regime) is "pervasive," "effective" and the single "most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world." The authors were particularly surprised at its acute level of invasiveness and the constant refinement of its filtering techniques. The study also describes the complex legal regime that aids the effort to suppress information in the name of social stability.
The report is a sobering document for many of us who originally assumed that as China's online population grew, the harder it would be to censor speech. Actually, it turns out that it doesn't matter how many people are online, 25 million or 100 million, the effects are the same. China is proving here (contrary to popular belief) that the Internet can be controlled by aggressively targeting key gateways on the backbone network. Of course there are organized efforts trying to deceive or circumvent these restrictions, but so far they have achieved only marginal success.
All of this censorship comes at a high cost to the Chinese economy in terms of resources, talent, and functionality. More importantly, it has left the democratic reform movement without a very powerful tool for change. China's democratic revolutionaries, wherever they are, are not on the Web.
I discuss the censorship issue briefly within the broader context of China's telecommunications policy in this paper released today. Specifically, I examine the country's ambition to create "national champions" (large telecom companies with the ability to compete globally) and how that goal conflicts with the more pressing need to promote infrastructure investment.