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Draft decree tightening controls over Internet and online gaming shops barking up the wrong tree, critics say

An Internet shop in Hanoi. A draft decree proposing stricter controls over Internet and online gaming shops might not achieve desired ends, critics say

Thanh Ha has been running an Internet and online game shop at her home for the last eight years, but now, she is thinking of hiring a place nearby.

She would be forced to move if a draft decree banning the provision of such services within a radius of 200 meters from schools take effect. Her home is located just 30 meters or so from the Nguyen Cong Tru High School in Ho Chi Minh City's Go Vap District.

Ha is puzzled, though.

"It would be difficult for my business because I will have to pay the rent. But I do not think it would prevent students from playing online games. Surely they will know where my new shop is and come there as usual," she said.

Ha is among many Internet shop owners who will be directly affected by the draft decree on Internet services that has attracted controversy over its feasibility.

According to the draft decree on "management, supplying and using Internet services and electronic information", online game shops must be located at a distance of least 200 meters from a school.

The document distinguishes between online game shops and those that provide Internet services. However, either shop is only allowed to open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day.

The Ministry of Information and Communications, which drafted the decree, has said it would submit the document to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for approval in June.

At recent conference discussing the draft decree, deputy minister Do Quy Doan said current regulations do not match the rapid developments in Internet made since it was first introduced in Vietnam in 1997.

"It is necessary to make amendments to relevant regulations to create a complete legal framework for sustainable development of Internet services," he said.

However, the HCMC Department of Information and Communications has said the draft decree is skewed in its focus.


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"The city has around 20,000 Internet shops and none of them would meet the proposed requirements because the city has schools all around," said a department official, who wished to remain unnamed.

He said 90 percent of Internet shop visitors go there mainly to play online games and only a few use other services like email, chat, and web browsing.

The government should focus instead on managing Internet and online games providers, he said.

Tam, an Internet shop owner who has been in the business for the past 12 years, said he would run an Internet shop instead of online game one which will become illegal because the parlor is located near a secondary school.

"But how can I prevent my customers from playing web games or just downloading the MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) to play instead of using [other] Internet services?" he said.

Tam also said the government should consider compensating owners of game shops that would have to close if the draft document takes effect.

"They have been running a business legally. The government can't just ban them without any compensation. Investment in an Internet shop costs much money and having to close them will cause significant losses," he said.

Another game shop owner pointed out other problems with the draft decree.

He said it was not practical to require people under 14 to have a guardian to register for them to play online games.

"Online games have developed very fast. Everyone can play the games with their [smart] phones instead of coming to an Internet shop," he said.

The draft decree requires gamers to register their real name, age, permanent address, ID or passport number and home phone/table phone of the game shop.

Maximum playing time will be reduced from the current five hours to three hours per day. Game providers have to stop giving points, virtual items and level advancement for those playing beyond these time limits.

However, gamers say this provision is also not feasible because no one would be able to monitor and verify registrations to play an online game.

"I will just register more than one account to play as long as I want. Anyway, such regulations have failed to prevent online game abuse," said Dung, a gamer in HCMC.

According to the draft document, online game suppliers are not allowed to use servers abroad to supply the services to Vietnamese gamers.

Luu Vu Hai, director of the ministry's Broadcasting and Electronic Information Department said foreign online game suppliers are only allowed to provide services in Vietnam under contracts or through partnership with local licensed businesses.

And foreign companies' shares are limited to a maximum of 49 percent of the partnership's charter capital, he said.


The draft decree on Internet services and electronic information proposes that organizations and companies abroad supplying public information to many netizens in Vietnam must have a representative office in Vietnam.

The Ministry of Information and Communications will issue criteria for such organizations and companies that "supply information to many Vietnamese internet users."

The businesses are also required to make pledges in writing to cooperate with local authorities in removing information that violates Vietnamese laws, including those that are against Vietnamese government, damage social and national security and promote violence.

Meanwhile, news websites will have to obtain registration that has to be renewed every five years. The validity for registration for supplying social network services is ten years.

Under the draft regulations, Google and Facebook may have to open representative offices in Vietnam to provide their services for locals.

Under the draft decree announced by the Ministry of Information and Communications last week, foreign businesses providing cross-border public information for a majority of users in Vietnam will have to establish representative offices here.

According to statistics from Google Southeast Asia, some 80 percent of Internet users in the region use its search service. This means that with the total of over 30 million Internet users in Vietnam, the number of Google users here can exceed 20 million.

Social Bakers, a private company which provides statistics related to social network, said that there were more than 3.5 million Facebook users in Vietnam as of last month.

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