Internet use rises at slower pace in 2011

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The number of Chinese who gained access to the Internet in 2011 increased by the smallest rate seen in nearly the past decade, even as the total number of Chinese online hit a record high.

That's what data released on Monday by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) showed.

The number of Chinese on the web was at 513 million for the year. But the annual increase rate was 12.2 percent, the slowest since 2002.

The nation gained fewer than 56 million Internet users in the past year, the smallest annual increase seen since 2006, according to the information center, a quasi-governmental organization that monitors China's Internet industry.

A little less than 40 percent of Chinese people were connected to the World Wide Web by December, a number that was 4 percentage points higher than it had been in 2010, the center said.

In Asia, the average proportion of the online population is 24 percent. Still, China's connection rate lagged the rates for Japan, South Korea and Singapore, countries where more than 70 percent of the population is online, according to the Internet analysis company Minwatts Marketing Group.

The CNNIC said that China may find it harder to increase the size of its Internet population in coming years. The organization explained that almost everyone who has the minimum schooling and income needed to be able to surf the web is already online.

Even so, Yu Bin, chief financial officer of Tudou Holdings Ltd, the second-largest online video company in China, said she believes there is still room for more people to get access to the Internet. It may be too early to say the proportion of the Chinese population on the Internet has hit a ceiling, she said.

Meanwhile, the growth rate for people who use mobile devices to go online also slowed in 2011.

The number of Chinese users of mobile online devices reached 356 million in December, up by 17.5 percent from the same month a year before, the center said. That rate was smaller than it had been in the previous two years.

Among all Chinese users of cell phones, only 36.5 percent had access to the Internet, the center's statistics showed. At the same time, the center predicted that the Chinese mobile Internet business will see another boom as more online-service providers tailor their products to meet the various demands of customers.

"Looking at the number of Internet users is just one way to estimate the value of the industry," said Hu Yanping, general manager of DCCI Data Center of China Internet. "Chinese companies can still try to improve the time and expenses users spend on the Internet."

Despite the industry's slower growth, the number of micro-bloggers in China increased quickly in the past year.

The CNNIC estimated that the number of Chinese micro-bloggers in 2011 was four times as great as it had been the year before.

The center's report estimated that China was home to about 250 million micro-bloggers in 2011.

Online companies, for their part, reported even bigger numbers.

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