2010/09/09

China grants web mapping licences to 31 firms

BEIJING, September  9, 2010 (AFP) - China has granted licences to 31 companies to provide web mapping services in the world's biggest online market, an official said Thursday, but many foreign firms including Google have yet to apply.

Companies that have won approval include Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia, Chinese search engine Baidu and online portals Sina and Sohu, an official with the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) who asked not to be named told AFP.

Nokia is the only foreign firm that has so far applied for the licence, the bureau's deputy head Song Chaozhi told the official China Daily newspaper.

Without state approval, US Internet titans Google -- which squared up to Beijing this year over state censorship and cyberattacks -- and Microsoft could lose their spot in the online mapping market in China.

Both Google and Microsoft currently offer mapping services in China, which could be shut down without a licence.

"Although Google has made some initial contact with us, it has not officially submitted an application," Song told the China Daily, adding Google would send a senior executive to China this week to discuss the issue.

Google spokeswoman in China Marsha Wang was not immediately available to comment when contacted by AFP on Thursday.

Under new rules introduced in June, all firms providing Internet map and location services in China are required to apply for approval from the SBSM, state media said last month.

Foreign firms wanting to provide those services in China are required to set up joint ventures or partnerships with local firms.

The Legal Daily quoted Song on Thursday as saying that the SBSM was considering setting a deadline for applications for the licence, and firms that failed to apply by then would face a shutdown of their services.

China in July renewed Google's Internet Content Provider licence, after the US web giant threatened to completely shut down its operations in the Asian country over what it said were China-based cyberattacks.

The renewal came after the California-based firm set up a new landing page at google.cn with links to its uncensored Hong Kong search engine, ending an automatic redirect that had apparently irritated authorities.

Google, Baidu and Chinese company DDMap currently account for more than half of the online mapping market in China, previous media reports said.

China had 420 million Internet users as of the end of June, according to official data.