Rural Internet Usage in China

On September 7, 2007, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) published “Survey Report on the Internet Usage in Chinese Rural Area”. This is the first full scale survey report published in China regarding the macro Internet development situation in rural areas of China. The report shows that the number of Internet users in Chinese rural areas has exceeded 37 million, and that their major application is online entertainment, which equals the level in urban areas.

The Digital Divide between urban and rural areas is still obvious. The report shows that by the end of June 2007, the number of the rural Internet users reached 37.41 million. The penetration rate of the Internet for all 737 million rural residents is only 5.1%. Meanwhile, China has 125 million urban Internet users, with an urban penetration rate of 21.6%. However, comparing with the statistics of December 2006, the gap has been gradually narrowed. China had 23.1 million rural Internet users in 2006, with a penetration rate of 3.1%.

The main bottleneck is that at year end of 2006, every 100 households in rural areas possess only 2.7 computers, which is far behind the figure for urban areas (47.2 computers). Comparing with the figures for the same period in 2005, the computer number increased from 0.6 in every 100 rural households, while the urban households now have 5.7 computers more. The report also indicates their reasons for not using the Internet. The main one is “have no facility”, which accounted for 39.5% of all non-users in rural areas, while this proportion in urban areas is only 26.6%. Due to the lack of household computers, 53.9% of rural users surf online in Internet cafes, resulting in a much higher figure that even exceeds the national average Internet café surfing rate of 37.2%. Insufficient Internet infrastructures in rural areas has become the major bottleneck that blocking the development of the Internet usage in Chinese rural areas.

Comparing with urban users, the application level of rural Internet users is less advanced. The report shows that 66.5% of rural users read online news, while the proportion in urban areas is 81.5%, which is 15 percentage points higher; 65.8% of the rural users use search engines while the rate in urban areas is 13 percentage points higher (78.4%). Besides, much less users in rural areas have ever touched online purchasing, online banking and online stock trading.

It was found in the survey that rural users and urban users have similar access level for online entertainment. The rates of listening online music, playing online games and watching online movies and TV series of rural users are respectively 68.9%, 47.1% and 60.9%, comparing to 68.4%, 47.0% and 61.2% of urban users.

The survey also involved rural migrants. The statistics show that rural migrant users reached 20 million and that most of them access the Internet in Internet cafes or through their mobile phones. For that matter, they averagely pay 86.6 RMB Yuan per month, that is 11 Yuan higher than the average level of the total Internet users (75 RMB Yuan) and even higher than the total non-student users monthly cost of 80.8 RMB Yuan.

In conclusion, along with the progress of rural informatization access in China, the Internet has become a substantial part of the building of a new-type rural area. 37 million rural users are bringing vast demand and real business opportunities. No one doubts the rural area in China will become a great Internet market.

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