China reaches 485 million Internet users as growth slows

China adds 27 million Internet users since the end of 2010

China added 27 million Internet users over the last six months, bringing the total number to 485 million, but the growth of China's Internet population continues to slow, according to official statistics released on Tuesday.

The statistics show that between January and June China's Internet population grew 6.1 percent, a drop from the 9.4 percent increase the country saw during the same period in 2010. In previous years, the growth was in double digits, with China's Internet population increasing by 20.5 percent in the first six months of 2008. The number of Internet users in China has more than doubled since the end of 2007, when there were 210 million.

The figures released on Tuesday came from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a non-profit group with ties to the government.

China's total Internet penetration is at 36.2 percent, still far behind the U.S., which is at 77.3 percent, according to Internet World Stats.

The low Internet penetration in China leaves 815 million people who do not use the Internet, according to the CNNIC. Many of these people are older Chinese or from the country's rural areas, and don't know how to use a computer.

Growth in mobile Internet use has also slowed: 318 million Chinese now access the Internet from their mobile phones, more than the entire population of the U.S.

The figures provided by the CNNIC, however, are inflated, according to some analysts. The CNNIC considers na Internet user as a person six years and older, who has connected to the Internet in the past six months.

Internet marketing research firm comScore has more conservative figures. In May it said the country had 304.2 million Internet users. It counted Internet users as people over 14 who have gone online either through a home or work computer in the past month.

Another estimate from comScore, counting people who accessed the Internet through Internet cafes or public computers, put the figure at 415.6 million.

While the figures from CNNIC show that Internet user growth in China is slowing, use of domestic Twitter-like services has exploded in the past six months. Twitter itself is blocked in China as part of government measures to clamp down on politically sensitive content. But similar services that are domestically run have taken off in the country. The overall number of users of microblogging services is now 195 million, up from 63 million at the end of 2010, according to CNNIC. One of the most popular is a Chinese social networking service known as Sina Weibo, which reported 140 million registered users in May.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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