Internet Use in China Soars

The number of Internet users in China increased more than 23 percent in 2006, topping out at 137 million with an estimated 104 million of those having some level of access to a broadband connection.

TheChina Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a government agency that has been tracking online usage since 1997, reported the number of Internet users rose by 23.4 percent last year, accounting for 10.5 percent of the country’s total population.

Another 17 million Chinese went online via mobile phones, accounting for 12.4 percent of the total Internet population, according to CNNIC.

“With a broadband penetration rate of 76 percent, China has already become one of the most-developed markets in broadband,” Wang Enhai, an official with the CNNIC, said in the report.

In fact, China ranks second behind the United States, which has an estimated 210 million Internet users.

Good News for Business

The increase in the number of broadband users is generating a great deal of interest from dot-coms and technology firms looking to expand operations in China’s burgeoning markets, according to a recent study by Forrester Research.

“Broadband is a key technology in consumers’ uptake of Internet activities like social computing and e-commerce,” said Christopher M. Kelley, a Forrester analyst who co-authored the report.

Between now and 2015, Kelly told TechNewsWorld, consumer spending power in emerging economies like China and India will more than double, from US$4 trillion to $9 trillion — nearly equivalent to the current spending power of Western Europe.

The increased purchasing power will most likely be fueled by a billion consumers reaching middle-class status in these countries, a trend that is evident in China right now, according to the Forrester report.

Decreased Costs Equal More Users

Although affordability and low speeds were the major factors that slowed down Chinese Internet growth in the past, broadband infrastructure improvements in recent years have helped drive the costs of connections down.

The average connection fee dropped by almost 20 percent to 83.5 Yuan ($10.75) per month at the end of 2006, according to the CNNIC.

With the improved infrastructure has come a better-quality experience. More seamless content delivery has played a crucial role in the rise of users, according to CNNIC.

More than 70 percent of China’s Internet users are under 30 years old, and 58.3 percent of the overall users are men, with 41.7 percent women, the CNNIC report noted. The two largest age groups for users are 18 to 24, with 35.2 percent, and 25 to 30, with 19.7 percent.

Service Leaps Forward

Online services like e-mail, search engines, e-commerce, blogs, online news and games saw rapid development, while new technologies brought new opportunities for the development of the Internet, Minister of Information Industry Wang Xudong said in the report.

However, there appears to be a growing disparity between the urban and rural areas, with Internet use in cities 6.5 times more than in the countryside, a situation that needs to be addressed in the near future, Wang said.

A lack of knowledge of computers and inadequate access to equipment and networks remain the main difficulties for Chinese who are not yet online, according to the report.

The statistics are based on telephone surveys of 32,325 Chinese.

Government Is Still Watching

On the same day that China’s Internet community cheered the expansion of its members, the country’s President, Hu Jintao, called on government officials to promote and better regulate Internet services in China.

At a study session of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of Chinese Communist Party on Tuesday, Hu said officials should “actively and creatively nurture a healthy online culture” that meets public demand, according to a report in China’s official news agency, Xinhua.

“The rapid development of the Internet in China has played an important role in spreading information, knowledge and [the] Communist Party’s policies, and it has also raised new issues for the country’s cultural development,” Hu said.

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