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Surge in Chinese internet users

Visitors test 3G wireless network at communications show, Beijing, Oct 08
Internet use is surging in China, particularly through mobile phones

China's online population, already the world's largest, has expanded to 298 million.

This marks a 41.9% increase on the previous year and is still growing fast, said the government-linked China Internet Network Information Centre.

The study also showed huge increases in the number of people in China accessing the internet through mobile phones.

The report by Cinic also noted that internet use in the countryside was increasing faster than in the cities.

At the end of 2008, the number of net users in China, which has a population of 1.3 billion, was almost the same as the entire population of the United States.

Users in the countryside surged by 60.8% year-on-year to 84.6 million, compared with much more modest growth of 35.6% in the urban areas, the report said.

The Cinic report said 117.6 million people accessed the internet using their mobile phones last year, up 133% from 2007.

Students are the main strength of mobile internet users, the study said: 43.5% of them use their mobile phones to read online news, download music, check email and perform a variety of other tasks.

3G boom

China, with 633.8 million mobile phone users, last week issued long-awaited licences for third-generation (3G) mobile phones to China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.

CHINA'S INTERNET USE
Total users: 298 million
Year-on-year increase: 41.9%
Mobile net users: 117.6 million
Internet penetration: 22.6%
"With the coming of the 3G era, wireless internet will have exponential growth," Cinic said in a statement accompanying the release of its report.

3G phones enable faster data transmission and services such as watching TV, playing online games, wide-area wireless calls and web surfing.

By 2011, the three operators expect to start 3G services all over China, a move which analysts predict will spur further massive growth in mobile internet use.

As the categories of mobile internet services increase, charges have also been dropping fast.

China's internet penetration is still low at just 22.6%, leaving more room for rapid growth, Cinic said.

Constraints

The study said 234 million people surfed the internet to read or watch news by the end of 2008, a much higher estimate than recently made by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In 2007, 155 million Chinese internet users relied on the web to read news, accounting for 73.6% of the total internet population, according to Cinic.

It also said the number of Chinese bloggers hit 162 million by the end of 2008.

China's booming internet use comes despite the government's tight grip on the web.

Certain websites deemed politically sensitive are blocked; these include the BBC's Chinese language news site, Reporters Without Borders and some Hong Kong and Taiwan sites.

Access to sites offering diverse political opinions remains highly restricted, even as Chinese intellectuals and activists regularly brave the constraints to post new statements.

The government is also targeting what it calls unhealthy content on the internet. Earlier this month, it launched a campaign to get rid of vulgar and pornographic content, targeting 19 websites and search engines it said had failed to remove unsuitable material.

Authorities in Beijing, meanwhile, actively use the internet to sway opinion, put across actions and ideas, and promote top leaders.

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