45 million online: China claims third place among nations in Internet usage

Tuesday, July 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ Surging Internet usage has made China the No. 3 user of the Internet in the world, a new report asserts, with more than 45 million citizens now logging on regularly even as the government struggles to control subversive content.

The figures, reported by official newspapers on Tuesday, marked a 72 percent rise over last year. They continue a trend of strong growth in Internet use among China's 1.26 billion people, according to the China Internet Network Information Center, an industry group funded by the Information Industry Ministry.

Only the United States and Japan have more citizens connected to the Internet, according to the report, which was quoted in the Communist Party's People's Daily and other newspapers.

China has 16 million computers linked to the Internet, an increase of 61 percent over June 2001, the report said. The average Chinese Internet user spends eight hours and 20 minutes online each week.

While Internet usage was formerly limited mostly to academics, 68 percent of users do not have college degrees. That indicates that ``the Internet is now coming closer to common people,'' People's Daily said in its online edition.

China has strongly promoted the Internet's commercial potential, despite concerns among communist leaders that the Web would weaken its ability to control access to information and political debate.

At the same time, however, authorities keep as tight a rein as they can on citizens' Internet usage.

To ward off unwanted influences, police monitor online content and block links to Web sites operated by foreign media and government critics. People who use the Internet to transmit material deemed subversive have been given lengthy prison sentences.

In addition, many Internet users' main means of going online has been cut off in recent weeks. The government ordered all Internet cafes shut down after a fatal fire in Beijing last month, and only selected establishments have been permitted to reopen.

The Gartner Group, a telecommunications consulting firm, estimated last month that about 80,000 of China's 200,000 Internet cafes were unlicensed.