After Google, another US Web firm cuts back in China

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Two days after Google halted censorship in China, another leading US Internet company, Go Daddy, said it was cutting back on its activities there because of Chinese regulations.

Go Daddy, the largest Web domain name registrar in the world, is no longer registering names in China because of “chilling” new requirements imposed by the Chinese authorities, executive vice president Christine Jones said on Wednesday.

Jones also told a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China that Go Daddy was one of the companies hit by Chinese-based cyberattacks in December that contributed to Google’s decision to stop self-censorship there.

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, praised Google and Go Daddy at the hearing here for “doing the right thing in China” and urged other US companies, specifically Microsoft, to follow their lead.

Related article: Foreign firms ponder China future

“Google fired a shot heard ’round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people,” Smith said.

Google announced Monday it had effectively closed its Chinese-language search engine in China, Google.cn, and begun redirecting mainland Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong.

Chronology: Google’s operations in China

Alan Davidson, Google’s director of public policy, told the hearing the Hong Kong site is already being censored.

“We are well aware that the Chinese government can, at any time, block access to our services — indeed we have already seen intermittent censorship of certain search queries on both Google.com.hk and Google.com,” he said.

Davidson also echoed a call made by Google co-founder Sergey Brin for new rules to govern trade in the online world.

Brin said in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that Chinese regulations that prevent companies from being competitive in China should be considered a “trade barrier.”

“Since services and information are our most successful exports, if regulations in China effectively prevent us from being competitive, then they are a trade barrier,” Brin said.

Davidson said governments “need to develop a full set of new trade rules to address new trade barriers.

“We should continue to look for effective ways to address unfair foreign trade barriers in the online world: to use trade agreements, trade tools, and trade diplomacy to promote the free flow of information on the Internet.”

Brin and Davidson’s comments came after TOM Online, the Internet company owned by Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, severed ties with Google.

TOM, which runs online and mobile Internet services in mainland China, said that “as a Chinese company, we adhere to rules and regulations in China where we operate our businesses.”

TOM’s move sparked concerns other companies may also pull away from the Web giant. On Thursday the Financial Times reported that China Unicom, the country’s second largest mobile phone operator, will jettison Google’s search function from new handsets.

The move is the first concrete result of Google’s decision to shut down its Chinese search engine on Monday.

“We are willing to work with any company that abides by Chinese law…. We don’t have any cooperation with Google currently,” the Financial Times quoted China Unicom president Lu Yimin as saying.

China has attacked Google for stopping censorship but said there should be no broader fall-out in Sino-US ties provided the issue is not politicized in the United States.

Go Daddy’s Jones said the company has been authorized since April 2005 by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) to offer registration services for .cn domain names.

The .cn suffix is a Top Level Domain for China like .com and individuals or companies seeking to create a Web address are required to go through a registrar such as Go Daddy, which has 40 million domain names under management.

Jones said Go Daddy collects contact information of individuals or companies registering a domain name including their full name, address, telephone number and email address.

Four months ago, however, CNNIC required registrants of new .cn names to provide color headshot photos, a Chinese business registration number and signed registration forms, she said.

She said Go Daddy is “concerned for the security of the individuals affected by CNNIC’s new requirements, as well as for the chilling effect we believe the requirements will have on new .cn domain name registrations.

“For these reasons, we have decided to discontinue offering new .cn domain names at this time,” Jones said. “We didn’t want to act as an agent of the Chinese government.”

Jones also said that Go Daddy was one of more than 30 companies hit by the cyberattacks in December that Google said originated in China. “We’ve had a couple of dozen since the first of the year as well,” she said.

“The Google attack was aimed at infiltrating email accounts,” she said. “The attack on our system is designed to disable websites somebody doesn’t like.”

Bin Laden issues fresh threat to U.S.

Exiled al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, threatened in a new audio recording released on Thursday to kill any captured Americans if the U.S. executes the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks or any other al-Qaeda suspects.

The U.S. is still considering whether to put Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his fellow plotters on military tribunal for their role in the September 11 attacks. The Obama administration is also looking into recommendations for civilian trials, and is expected to announce a decision soon.

In a brief 74-second audio tape aired on Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden said if the U.S. decides to execute any al-Qaeda suspects in its custody — and explicitly mentioned Mohammed — his terror network would kill American captives.

The terror leader said such a decision “would mean the U.S. has issued a death sentence against whoever of you becomes a prisoner in our hands.”

It was not immediately clear whether al-Qaeda currently has any U.S. captives, but the Haqqani group – the Pakistan-based Taliban faction closest to al-Qaeda — is holding an American soldier it captured in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. It released a video of him in December.

Bin Laden said U.S. President Barack Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor George W. Bush by escalating the war in Afghanistan, being “unjust” to al-Qaeda prisoners and supporting Israel in its occupation of Palestinian land.

In a veiled threat, bin Laden said Americans had previously thought their homeland was beyond the reach of his group until the 9/11 attack.

Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, is the most senior al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, and is currently in detention at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 2008, the U.S. charged him with murder and war crimes in connection with the September 11 attacks. Pentagon officials have said they’ll seek the death penalty.

Water Board seeks hike in water tariff

Hyderabad: In a bid to earn more revenues, the Water Board has proposed a hike in the water tariff.

Officials of the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board are working out the different slabs and are likely to target the high-end consumers like hotels and other commercial establishments while bringing the hike to effect.

The tariff for the 16-30 kilolitre slab consumers may increase from Rs 8 to Rs 12 or maybe even Rs 14 per kilolitre.

Similarly, for the 31-50 kilolitre slab, there may be an increase from Rs 15 to Rs 20 per kilolitre.

The Water Board expects an increase of Rs 10 crore in its monthly revenue due to the hike. Currently, the Board collects Rs 32 crore as revenue from water bill payments each month against a monthly expenditure of Rs 45 crore.

The water tariff was last increased in 2002. The officials are planning to place the proposals before the Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah, who is also the chairman of the Water Board. He is scheduled to review the performance of the Board on March 27.

Sources say that domestic consumers, currently, paying Rs 6 per kilolitre are likely to be exempted from the hike. The Rosaiah government is averse to the idea of imposing additional burden on the middle and lower middle classes of the society. When contacted, the Water Board executive director, Mr Ashok Reddy, told this correspondent that nothing had been finalised and there had only been a discussion among officials regarding a hike.

It may be mentioned that Andhra Pradesh was was the first state to increase bus fares.

Even Transco is reportedly proposing a revision in power tariff.

Book LPG cylinders at e-Seva

Hyderabad: Applications for new cooking gas connections will soon be accepted through all e-Seva centres across the state. This comes after a good response to the initiative in Hyderabad.

Many applicants allege that dealers insist they purchase a gas stove and other gadgets from them to get the new connection. A dealer makes a profit of around Rs 1,000 on the sale of the stove etc. but for consumers who already have a stove it’s a waste of money

AP joins Maha battle against Almatti

Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh has presented crucial data of water storage before the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal to prove that Karnataka had secretly increased the height of the Almatti dam of the Supreme Court guidelines.

It also joined hands with Maharashtra to oppose Karnataka’s proposal to increase the height of the dam further by arguing that it would submerge large habitats and would also delay water release during Kharif season in AP.

Officials of AP presented a detailed investigation report stating that Karnataka had impounded 210.38 tmc ft water during the 2006-07 season, which would not have been possible if its height had been 519.6 metres as decided by the Supreme Court.

The state contended that Karnataka raised the height of the dam by 0.60 metres to accommodate additional 37.38 tmc ft water in violation of the Bachawat Award and the SC judgment. This allegation by AP created furore in the tribunal hearings with Karnataka denying increasing the height.

“But we have evidence that Karnataka indeed impounded more than what it could have done with the declared height,” said a senior official in the irrigation department. Karnataka argued for raising the height of the dam to 524.256 metres for utilising another 130 tmc ft out of its share of surplus water of 517 tmc ft.

It alternatively proposed storage of between 519.60 metres and 524.256 metres as carryover for the benefit of all the three states and offered to store about 100 tmc ft water belonging to AP and release it whenever the state wants. However, AP rejected these proposals and argued that Karnataka can use only 155 tmc ft and not 173 tmc ft as claimed during the hearings before the tribunal.

Intel Capital invests USD 23 million in Indian tech firms

Intel Capital, Intel Corporation’s global investment unit, on Thursday said it has invested USD 23 million in three Indian technology companies – July Systems, KLG Systel and MCX.

However, the firm did not reveal the amount the three companies have received individually.

Funding would come from the USD 250 million Intel Capital India Technology Fund, established in December 2005, Intel Capital said in a statement.

“This fund invests in Indian technology companies to stimulate local technology innovation and the continued growth of India’s information technology industry,” it said.

July Systems provides mobile internet solutions, which enables media brands to publish, distribute, monetise inventory and personalise services for consumers.

KLG Systel provides smart grid and energy management and efficiency solutions to power utilities and end-users.

MCX, a leading commodity futures electronic exchange in India, has permanent recognition from the Indian government for facilitating online trading, clearing and settlement operations for futures market across the country.

“Intel Capital’s investment in July Systems, KLG Systel and MCX reinforces our commitment towards fostering Indian innovation,” President of Intel Capital and Executive Vice- president of Intel Arvind Sodhani said.

Since 1998, Intel Capital has invested more than USD 200 million in Indian technology companies across 10 cities, the statement added.

Kolkata fire: Caretaker, assistant in 14-day custody

A notice informing public about demolition work hangs on the gates of the Stephen Court building in Kolkata on Thursday

The caretaker of the fire-ravaged heritage building on Park Street and his assistant were on Thursday remanded to 14-day police custody as the blame game intensified with the Chief Minister warning civic officials of stern action over the ‘racket’ in illegal constructions.

Tarun Bagadia, the caretaker of Stephen Court, and his assistant Ramshankar Singh, arrested on negligence and other charges, were sent to police custody by a court of the chief metropolitan magistrate.

Acting on a petition, the Calcutta High Court granted interim stay on the demolition of any portion of the 150-year-old Stephen Court.

Debraj Sharma and other residents of Stephen Court submitted that the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, in the name of demolishing the two top floors of the building, was destroying their property and not allowing them to enter.

The fire that broke out on Tuesday claimed 24 lives.

While Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee put the number of missing at 24, Kolkata Police Commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty said 12-15 people were untraceable.

Buddhadeb talks tough

Facing public outrage over the absence of safety norms, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee accused the civic administration of being hand in glove with the ‘coterie’ of illegal builders.

“The top floors of Stephen Court are illegal. We are investigating what the KMC’s role was at that time…The city has a coterie of illegal builders with whom the administration is involved. Exemplary punishment will be given. The fire has taught the government to intervene in such situations immediately,” he said in the State Assembly.

He went on to say that “a racket is working” in connivance with a section of the administration.

Search still on

Firemen continued search for the third day for those missing after the fire in the building as a stench was coming from the rubble on the upper floors.

“We can’t rule out more bodies as debris is yet to be cleared,” a fire brigade official said.

The residents demanded that they be allowed into the building, which was out of bounds for them, to collect their valuables.

The police and KMC officials had a tough time in facing the demonstrators, who included women with some lunging at the officials. “Save our houses. Don’t demolish them,” read one of the posters of the demonstrators.