Residents restricted to daily maximum of 20 text messages
URUMQI: "I love you!"
These three words were the first that Zhao Ting had received in a text message in more than six months in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, after the mobile phone short messaging service was restored just after midnight yesterday.
The service was switched off after the deadly July 5 riot in Urumqi, which left 197 dead and more than 1,700 injured.
Zhao, 26, said she could not believe it when she received the short message from her boyfriend.
"I've been receiving messages sent from the government and bank, I really couldn't believe I got a 'real' text message after so long," Zhao told China Daily.
Users in Xinjiang are once again able to send text messages throughout China, but sending texts to overseas remains prohibited, according to a customer service staff member at China Mobile, China's biggest mobile network operator.
"To prevent further unrest, the government blocked access to the Web and suspended international calls and text message services in the region 24 hours after the July 5 riot because they were vital tools used by ringleaders to instigate the riots in Urumqi," Yang Maofa, director of the regional telecommunications administration said.
Zhao said that she was excited that the text message service had returned because it is cost effective and convenient.
"My phone bill soared after the service was suspended," she said.
"Like most Xinjiang residents who learned about the reactivation of the service with a surprise message from friends and families last night, I stayed up late to send messages sharing my joy with others until my thumb became numb," she said. "I got about 50 messages in about half an hour."
However, Zhao was disappointed when she soon found out that she could only send a maximum of 20 messages.
She said the reason why people could only send a certain number of messages is to prevent the service being used by criminals. Each sender is allowed a maximum of 20 messages a day and users cannot transfer any surplus messages to the next day.
The restriction of the telecommunications service in Xinjiang after the riot has been the longest and widest since the founding of China and affected about 90 services provided by China Mobile, according to Xinjiang Mobile Communication magazine which is run by China Mobile's Xinjiang branch.
The regional government decided to gradually lift the ban on Internet service in late December last year because of the improving social situation in the region.
Xinjiang residents are currently allowed partial access to two official websites: xinhuanet.com and people.com.cn as well as two commercial websites: sina.com.cn and sohu.com. However, access to email, forums and blogs on those sites is still prohibited in Xinjiang.
People can only make international calls at local branches of China Telecom after first registering their ID.