Abstract: In its introduction to problems of trade in internet-based services, this paper focuses on two cases: one a country and one a product. The national study is of China, among the world's more comprehensive internet regulators. China makes for an interesting case because as a condition to accession to the WTO, it agreed to what has been called “radical” reform of its service practices. Yet at the same time China is among the world's more active filterers of internet services. As we shall see, these two positions are in tension, and while WTO law leaves much room for exceptions, some of China's restrictions may not be easily justifiable under the GATS. The second study is of the company Skype, a provider of voice over Internet services. Skype offers free voice telephone services to anyone with an internet connection. As a consequences, incumbent telephony carriers, often state-owned, have a strong competitive interest in preventing Skype from reaching their customers. The instances of Skype blocking in several countries raise interesting trade in services issues.
This paper is meant for two audiences. For those within the world of trade law it clarifies how internet services have leapt beyond what was contemplated in GATS or subsequent telecommunications agreements. The universalization of a network that is a platform for any type of service requires new thinking about how barriers may come about, and how sectoral commitments are interpreted. For those within the world of telecommunications or internet law, this paper introduces the relevance of WTO law to national regulation of internet services. One of the most interesting consequences may be a tempering of what we might call the “Yahoo! Presumption”; that is, the presumption that the burden lies with internet companies to adapt to national legal systems. While still generally true, the tendency in WTO jurisprudence is to put the burden on national governments to justify internet blocking.