More Rural Chinese Surf the Web by Mobile Phone

Mobile phones are an increasingly popular way to surf the Internet in rural China, but a "digital divide" is still growing between the country's rural and urban areas, a survey found.

Rural China had over 100 million Internet users at the end of last year, accounting for just 15 percent of the rural population, according to a report put online Thursday by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the government-controlled overseer of Internet domain names in the country. That compares to 45 percent of people online in bigger cities, a gap that has widened for the last two years, the report said.

China is home to everything from extremely poor farming villages to super-developed metropolises like Shanghai and Beijing. China's mobile carriers and state media have trumpeted the rollout of 3G mobile services in the last year, but much of the country's population of 1.3 billion people remains beyond the reach of advanced communication technology. CNNIC counts more than 384 million Internet users in China, the most in any country but still less than one-third of China's population.

The CNNIC report blamed lack of knowledge, low incomes and poor infrastructure for the slower growth of Internet use in rural China. Rural Chinese Internet users are more likely than urban ones to be poorly educated, the report said. They use the Internet to get music and play online games, but they are less likely than urban users to use it for commercial services like online shopping or online payment, it said.

The numbers present a mixed picture for China's mobile carriers as they try to extend their reach further into rural areas and persuade more users to pay for 3G data services. Two in three rural Chinese Internet users got online by mobile phone last year, a significant rise from a year earlier. But rural users also remain poorly connected and lack high spending power.

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