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Posted by: Frederik Balfour on July 26, 2008
I’ve seen several stories trumpeting the much-anticipated news that China, with 253 million internet subscribers at the end of June, has officially overtaken the U.S. as having the largest online community in the world.
But for me the real story behind these figures is the yawning digital divide between China and India. The dusty old country of 1.1 billion denizens has just 42 million internet subscribers. That amounts to an internet penetration of less than 4% compared to China’s which is in excess of 19%.
When it comes to broadband penetration, India’s position looks even starker. According to India’s Business Standard, the country has just 4.38 million broadband subscribers, amounting to slightly more than 10% of internet users. That’s shockingly low compared to China, which boasts 214 million broadband subscribers, accounting for about 85% of all users.
I find it a more than a little surprising that a country like China, which operates a vast and sophisticated firewall to prevent its citizens from accessing information and opinions the communists deem a threat to their monopoly on power, continues to see such a boom in internet growth. Sure, Chinese internet users spend a lot of their time playing online games, downloading music, or watching Youtube wannabees, but the success of online commerce sites such as Alibaba’s Taobao are testament to how the country’s embrace of the internet is reshaping how its economy works.
So what’s holding India back? I’m sure many of you out there can enlighten me. I eagerly await your feedback.
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.