An economic boost

By Lan Xinzhen
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, September 5, 2013
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It's no secret that fast Internet speeds are quite elusive in China, placing it below the international average and well behind regional neighbors such as South Korea and Japan.

That's about to change.

A staff member at China Mobile demonstrates the use of a 4G mobile phone [By Tao Liang/Beijing Review]

The government recently unveiled its Broadband China plan aimed at increasing broadband speed and access across urban and rural regions by the decade's close, all in a bid to stimulate consumption of information products and services and boost economic growth.

"I'm hoping this grand plan by the government means it won't take so long to download a film. I also hope it means I'll be able to video chat with my family in the remote mountain areas of Guizhou Province," said Bai Fan, a salaried worker in Beijing.

Currently, his hometown in southwest China's Guizhou has no Internet access, and none of China's telecom companies is willing to lay down the necessary infrastructure, citing massive costs.

According to the plan, in seven years Internet speeds for cities will be as fast as 50 megabits per second (Mbps) while rural Internet speeds will be around 12 Mbps, 10 times current speeds. By 2020, 70 percent of China's families will have access to fixed broadband, 3G/LTE (long-term evolution) mobile network coverage will reach 85 percent and 98 percent of administrative villages will have broadband access.

According to a statement by the State Council, broadband networks form part of strategic public infrastructure and are vital for China's new era of economic and social development.

According to the strategy, the gap between China's broadband speeds and that of developed countries must be narrowed in the next several years. Faster speeds would bring new opportunities for growth, especially for smaller businesses, reads the statement.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is one of the authorities implementing the Broadband China plan. According to an NDRC statement, the strategy is needed to support China's economic transformation from one dependent on investment and exports to one reliant on consumption.

For young people, surfing the Internet has become a way of life. They are also more likely to shop online, and China's e-commerce industry has witnessed blistering growth in recent years. The government also hopes that with a more enhanced broadband network, more Chinese could turn to online education.

But China has plenty of work to do by the decade's end. Its broadband network is faced with unbalanced development between urban and rural areas.

At the end of 2012, only 9.5 percent of China's population had broadband access, a little bit higher than the world's average of 8 percent, but far below the figure of 25.6 percent in developed countries. Meanwhile, 40 percent of broadband subscribers were using the Internet with speeds of less than 4 Mbps, much slower than the average speed of 18 Mbps in developed countries. In rural areas, only 6.3 percent of the population had Internet access, 12.6 percentage points lower than the figure in cities.

Li Pumin, Director of the NDRC's Department of Policy Studies, says by implementing the Broadband China strategy, China will ensure that its information infrastructure reaches new heights, with all schools, libraries and hospitals having broadband access. By 2020, the gap with developed countries in broadband infrastructure will be significantly narrowed, technological innovation and product competitiveness will reach international levels and a sound network and information system will be established.

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