China Internet market grows to 137 million users

China added another 14 million Internet users in 2006, retaining its status as the world's second-largest Internet market, with 137 million total users, the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) announced Tuesday.

Of those, 90.7 million access the Internet using a broadband connection, a 15 percent jump over 2005, although total broadband use held steady at two-thirds of the Internet population. Also, 17 million users now access the Internet primarily via a wireless device.

Beijing residents accounted for 30.4 percent of the nation's total Internet use. Shanghai placed second with 28.7 percent of total Internet users. By contrast, the Tibet Autonomous Region accounted for only 0.1 percent of China's total Internet users, with 160,000. At present, only about 10.5 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use the Internet.

According to the 122-page report, 58.3 percent of Chinese Netizens are men and 41.7 percent are women. The two largest age groups for users are between the ages of 18 and 24 with 35.2 percent and between 25 and 30 with 19.7 percent. The report also noted that 57.8 percent of Internet users said they are not married.

Although many in the Internet industry, especially online advertising, like to point to Internet users as a more affluent group, the opposite seems to be true in China. The largest income group, 25.3 percent of respondents, earns less than Chinese renminbi 500 (US$64) per month. Only 1.6 percent had a monthly income of more than renminbi 10,000 (US$12,800).

Seventy-six percent of Chinese Internet users access the Internet primarily from home. Their primary online activity is sending and receiving e-mail (56.1 percent), followed closely by reading news (53.5 percent) and search (51.5 percent).

Users whose primary access point was a mobile device did so to send or receive e-mail (72.2 percent). Those who chose not to use their mobile device to access the Internet said the biggest obstacle was the high cost (69.6 percent). China does not yet have 3G (third generation) mobile service outside of test areas and pilot programs, but China Mobile Communications Corp. and China United Telecommunications Corp. offer 2.5G GSM (Global Standard for Mobile Communications) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) services, respectively, that allow for Internet access from mobile devices and computers with compatible modem PC cards.

Chinese Internet users also expressed deep concerns over giving out their private information online. Sixty-two percent said they were "totally unwilling" to give out private information online, with another 28 percent saying they were "not very willing" to do so. Only one percent said they were "very willing" to provide such information over the Internet.

CNNIC, a quasi-government organization, defines an "Internet user" for the purposes of the report as someone over the age of six who uses the Internet on average at least one hour per week. It did not release the size of its sample for the report.

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