Media in Russia face foreign ownership restrictions, will internet operators be next?

Media in Russia face foreign ownership restrictions, will internet operators be next?

18 August 2017

Russia’s Ministry of Сommunications and Mass Media has proposed limiting foreign ownership of internet exchange points to 20 per cent, in line with existing similar restrictions on Russian media outlets.

According to a copy of the proposal, published on an official government portal and cited by The Moscow Times, the 20 per cent limit would apply to foreign governments, companies and individuals, including those with dual citizenship.

The proposed restriction echoes a similar law that came into force in January 2016, which limits foreign owners to a 20 per cent stake in Russian media organisations.

Defining exchange points as technology through which internet traffic is exchanged through networks, the proposal would also impact communication operators, if passed. This will be of concern to some of Russia’s major communications firms, including Vimpelcom, which is owned outright by Dutch telecommunications services operator Veon, while Megafon is 25 per cent owned by the Swedish phone and mobile network Telia Company.

Why the need to enact such potentially disruptive measures? The Communications Ministry cited “the possibility of foreign interference with Russian internet infrastructure,” and a lack of “control over the internet traffic in Russia” as its rationale.

Despite this reasoning, critics decry the restriction as forming part of a broad government crackdown on internet freedom in Russia.

In May this year, Mr Putin approved a new strategy for the development of Russia as a “digital society”, with the establishment of greater government regulation of the internet a key tenet of the policy, while internet proxy services, also known as VPNs, will be forbidden in Russia from 1 November.

Source: The Moscow Times