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Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 10 News List

PRC Internet users could overtake US within two years

AFP , BEIJING

China's Internet population could overtake the US as the world's largest within two years, but foreign dotcoms may have to wait much longer to profit from it, analysts said yesterday.

While usage will pick up as computers get cheaper and the Internet becomes more attractive, local culture and habits constitute formidable barriers to entry for overseas businesses, they said.

"I believe China will overtake the United States in less than two years," said Huang Hui (黃暉), the director of the Center of Internet Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"The growth of Internet users in China is much higher than in the United States," he said.

The number of US users of the Internet currently hovers at around 210 million, an increase of little more than two percent from a year earlier, according to industry estimates and US government data.

China, on the other hand, saw its Internet population soar 23.4 percent last year to hit 137 million, according to the most recent figures from the government-controlled China Internet Network Information Center.

"The growth now is gaining much momentum. We're expecting even faster growth in 2007 and 2008," Wang Enhai (王恩海), director of the center's information services department, told the state-run China Daily newspaper.

Wang, too, expressed confidence that it would take no more than two years for China, already the world's second-largest Internet market in terms of people connected to cyberspace, to take over the global top spot.

"An increasing number of people are now getting hooked to the Web as PCs and Internet access are becoming affordable and Internet-based offerings diversified," he said.

The newspaper said China's 461 million mobile phone users would increasingly adopt new technologies enabling them to access the Internet on the move.

The new statistics from the center implied that more than one in 10 Chinese had become an Internet user.

"The online population now makes up 10.5 percent of the total population," the center said in a statement on its Web site. "In Beijing, it now exceeds 30 percent of the total population for the first time ever."

With user penetration hitting 10 percent, the Internet will create a "vast array of opportunities" for business, the China Daily said.

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