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Russia wary of foreign stakes in Internet firms

15 апреля 2009

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned of potential "security" risks from foreign investment in local Internet companies, amid growing concern the Kremlin could tighten regulation of one of the last categories of media without major government influence.

Mr. Medvedev and other officials have said they have no plans to regulate the content of the Internet, as authorities do in China, for example. The Kremlin has asserted control over major national television networks and newspapers in recent years, sharply limiting criticism of the authorities.

Internet usage in Russia has surged to about 50 million people in recent years -- partly thanks to government programs to wire schools -- and it has drawn increasing attention from the authorities, industry officials say.

Russian antitrust regulators last year blocked Google Inc. from buying a major Internet-advertising company from a Russian group. People familiar with the deal said Kremlin officials had privately expressed concern that it would have expanded foreign ownership in the sector. Russia's leading search engine, Yandex Co., is Russian-controlled but partly owned by several Western investment funds.

Foreign investment in search engines and social networks is "inevitable," Mr. Medvedev told leaders of the ruling United Russia party at a meeting Wednesday."But on the other hand -- don't let my words be seen as too conservative -- we need to watch this, because these are questions of security," he said.

The Communications Ministry is working up "security criteria" to determine where foreign ownership might be restricted, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
Russian law already requires government permission for significant foreign investment in publications with daily circulation over one million. Several major Russian sites have larger audiences, she said.

Last month, Communications Minister Igor Shchegolev said leading Russian Internet companies and technologies should be locally controlled to keep high-tech talent inside the country.

"Our contacts with the owners of these companies show that they understand their responsibility and the strategic significance of their resources," he said.

In contrast to his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, Mr. Medvedev has said he's a daily user of the Web.
He provides regular updates to a video blog on his site.

"It's impossible to dominate on the Internet, but the one that will 'set the fashions' on the Internet -- one or another political force, I mean -- that political force has a political future," Mr. Medvedev said.

Freedom House, a U.S.-based group, ranked
Russia as "partly free" in a 15-nation study of Internet freedom, released last week.

Источник: Total Telecom

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