China's internet users top 500 million

Journalists from Chinese websites work on computers during a press conference of the Third Session of the 11th National People's Congress in Beijing on March 4, 2010. China is home to the world's largest web population, with 384 million people online. The country has more than 81,000 Internet cafes with 4.7 million computers.

China now has more than 500 million internet users, according to the latest estimate.

The government's China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said today that 505 million people were online in China as of November 2011, Xinhua news agency reported.

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That means an extra 20 million people got connected in the four months between November and end June, when the number of users stood at 485 million.

A total of 37.7 percent of the Chinese population are now believed to have access to the internet, up 3.4 percent from the end of 2010. In comparison, Japan and South Korea have an internet penetration rate of 70 percent, according to Reuters.

The rise of microblogging sites has been even more dramatic: 300 million people were using them by the end of November, compared to 195 million at the end of June.

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China recently promised its citizens significantly faster, cheaper internet by 2015, the Shanghai Daily reported. According to the Ministry of Information Technology, the goal is to have an average broadband bandwidth of 20 megabytes per second (Mbps) in urban areas and 4 Mbps in rural ones.

Currently, China is ranked 71 in the world for broadband bandwidth, which according to the Beijing-based Data Center of China Internet is on average is five times slower than in the US. It costs four times more, however, at an average of $13 for 1 Mbps.

While user figures continue to rise, the number of websites in China has dropped dramatically in recent years, with more than a million sites shut due to the government’s repressive internet controls. China had 1.91 million websites at the end of 2010, a 41 percent drop from the previous year, according to a report by government think-tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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