China has surpassed the United States in terms of Internet users, a research firm confirmed yesterday.
"Internet users in China reached 210 million by the end of last year, very close to the 216 million users in the United States," said Liu Bin, an analyst at research firm BDA. "According to our calculations, China has already replaced the United States as the country with most Internet users by the end of last month."
The US has occupied the top slot since the inception of Internet in 1969 as a network of computers under the auspices of the US Department of Defense
BDA, however, said the US still far outstrips China in the value of Internet content, advertising and e-commerce.
According to CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center), China rose to the second position by the end of 2002, when its Internet users surpassed 59.1 million.
The government-backed research institution had announced in January that the number reached 210 million by the end of last year, an increase of 73 million, or 53.3 percent, over 2006, roughly equaling the population of France. It predicts the number to reach 280 million by the end of this year.
The new users will mainly come from China's small cities and rural areas, where Internet access and personal computers are still not that widespread.
Duncan Clark, BDA chairman, attributed China's rapid growth in Internet population to the country's buoyant economy, massive investments in broadband infrastructure and a strong consumer demand for online applications.
"While the volume of communications users will continue to rise, the focus in China will increasingly shift to deriving greater value from these consumers," he said.
According to CNNIC, China's Internet penetration rate was a paltry 16 percent last year, lower than the world average of 19.1 percent.