China ties US for most internet users

25 Apr 2008

(Associated Press via NewsEdge) By some measures, China has tied the US as the online population leader with its government reporting that the number of internet users there has soared to 221 million.

The figure, reported by the Xinhua News Agency, reflects China's explosive growth in internet use despite government efforts to block access to material considered subversive or pornographic. It was a 61% increase over the 137 million internet users reported at the start of 2007.

But the numbers alone can be deceiving.

Nielsen Online estimates the US online population at 221 million as well, but it counts only those with home or work access, as the vast majority of US internet users do. By contrast, one-third of Chinese internet users surf through cybercafes.

And China's internet penetration is still low, with 16% of people online, compared with a world average of 19%, Xinhua said. The Pew internet and American Life Project places US online penetration at 71%.

China still lags the US, South Korea and other markets in online commerce and other financial measures, though e-commerce, video-sharing and other businesses are growing quickly, and companies have raised millions of dollars from investors.

'We'll see this growth continuing,' said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China, a Beijing technology company. 'Even though China might overtake the US in total (internet) population, it still lags in the size of its internet industries, and there will be a lot more opportunities.'

Beijing promotes internet use for business and education but operates extensive online censorship. web surfers have been jailed for posting or e-mailing material that criticizes Communist rule or is deemed a violation of vague national security laws.

The Xinhua report cited February data from the government's China internet Network Information Center.

© 2008 The Associated Press

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