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China comes from behind in Net race

In the beginning the Internet was developed in the US. By 1990, twenty-one other countries, including Australia, were also part of the network. By 1999, 217 countries were connected.

According to a recent report by the US Commerce Department, traffic on the Net doubles every 100 days, driven by the needs of governments, businesses, universities, churches, community organisations and individuals.

Governments of developing countries now see the Internet as a means of lifting their nations into a world of new commerce and prosperity.

Businesses see it as a way to market their goods and services around the globe.

Universities, churches and community organisations see it as a means of spreading the word. Individuals use it as a very effective and inexpensive method of keeping in touch.

The role and readiness of two of the world’s great economies, the USA and China, makes for a great contrast. Although the gap at this stage is vast we can expect to see it close quickly over the next five years.

In the US in 1998 the population was 270 million, the number of phone lines per 100 people was 64.4, the number of Internet users was sixty million.

By 1999 in the US the number of Internet users had risen sharply to 110 million and the number of host computers was 33 million.

China, on the other hand, in 1998 had a population of 1.25 billion, the number of phone lines per 100 people was seven and the number of Internet users was 2.1 million. In 1999 the number of Internet users in China had risen to six million and the number of host computers was estimated at about 193,000.*

The Chinese only moved, in a limited fashion, into the online arena in 1994. The catch-up process by the Chinese is a fascinating tale.

• At present Chinese Internet surfers are generally well-educated and mostly males

• Although there are currently only 10,000 Chinese language websites, these are the sites most frequented by the locals. In many other countries international surfing quickly takes precedence

• Despite a tardy beginning the Chinese government is actively encouraging Chinese businesses and government agencies to go online

• Online shopping has commenced in China but there are practical problems associated with the fact that very few Chinese have a credit card

• Like many aspects of Chinese society, the Internet environment is still rigidly controlled.

The key to the spread of the Internet in China, as with many other countries, is the development of a new low-cost Internet delivery device instead of the relatively expensive PC.

The Chinese market alone is a great incentive to win this race.

* Stats sourced from reports prepared by the International Telecommunications Union.

• Mal Bryce is chairman of Celebrating Lives and a former WA Deputy Premier.

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