China has issued stricter rules for companies that manage Internet addresses, in a move analysts said was designed to improve service standards as well as tighten control over sensitive information in the burgeoning sector.
Such firms, known in the industry as registrars, must now have a minimum of one million yuan (US$121,000) in start-up capital, at least 15 employees and offer 24-hour customer service, the regulation, issued on Thursday, said. Previous rules had been vague.
They "must have strict and effective filtering mechanisms for cleaning bad and offensive domain names, which should be done once a day," the Ministry of Information Industry, which issued the articles, said on its Web site www.mii.gov.cn.
The firms, which number about 30 so far in China and serve mostly companies with their own Web sites, must also be registered with the powerful Ministry of Culture as proper Internet content providers, it said.
Industry watchers said the new rules formalized government control over the fast-growing Internet domain name sector where not all participants toe the Communist Party line on democracy, free speech and adult content.
"Small companies without an established investment and physical presence are much more likely to disregard regulations," said Nathan Midler, a research manager at IDC Asia Pacific.
"Companies with a substantial investment have a vested interest in cooperating," he said.
Diplomats say Chinese leaders know they must promote the free flow of information on the Internet for China to be a respected member of the international community, but are unwilling to face the potential criticism that freedom of speech can unleash.
Beijing has a special force of at least 30,000 "cyber cops" who patrol the Web, block some foreign news sites and shut down domestic sites with politically incorrect fare.