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|Friday, May 18, 2001, updated at 17:13(GMT+8)|
Bandwidth Limitations Stifle Growth of InternetChina's telecom networks are still suffering from narrow bandwidth which is hampering the pace of Internet development inside the country, according to Vice-Minister of Information Industry Zhang Chunjian.
Zhang made the observation Thursday at a conference called "The Internet: challenges, opportunities and prospects" held in honour of the 33rd World Telecommunications Day.
The information minister revealed that China had 22.5 million Internet users by the end of 2000, roughly one out of every 60 Chinese citizens.
Zhang claimed that bandwidth limitations were responsible for the low numbers, keeping China's Internet from developing fast enough and leaving the majority of people ignorant in the information age.
Bandwidth determines the rate at which information flows through a telcommunications network. Like a road, wider bandwidth allows a greater amount of information to pass at a higher speed.
Most people in China still access the Internet via telephone line, which provides a transmission speed of 56 kbps (56,000 bits per second), considered to be very slow. The connection is so slow, in fact, that people have taken to calling dial-up Internet service the "world wide wait."
Because users have to pay telecom firms for every minute they spend connected to the Internet, slow transmission speeds can make surfing on the Web a pricey prospect. Zhang blamed these costs for scaring people away from the Internet.
China Telecom, the dominant fixed-line and Internet access provider, now charges 0.07 yuan (0.8 US cent) per minute for Internet access service and an additional 0.02 yuan (0.2 US cent) per minute for usage of the telephone line.
A China Telecom customer who surfs the Internet three hours a day has to pay 486 yuan (US$58.7) at the end of each month.
Zhang said the government will encourage investment in basic infrastructure to increase the bandwidth.
Telecom charges, especially Internet access fees, will be significantly reduced in the near future, he said.
Market forces have already begun to change things, with firms pumping money into the construction of TV cable-based broadband networks to answer consumer demands.
China Netcom, a telecom newcomer incorporated in 1999, recently announced that it had constructed the country's first 40 gigabit (per second) broadest network using fibre optic cables. The network links 17 major cities and stretches 8,490 kilometres.
China Telecom has announced it will build a nationwide broadband network in three to five years.
Copper cable, a symbol of the narrowband age, will soon give way to more efficient and higher capacity optic fibres, China Telecom said in a statement.
Besides bandwidth, language is another barrier to Internet development in China, as more than 90 per cent of all the websites on the Internet are written in English.
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