China’s online population, already the world’s largest, rose to 298 million by the end of 2008, almost the same as the entire population of the United States, an industry survey said Tuesday.
The figure is up 41.9 percent from a year ago and is still growing fast, the government-linked China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) said in a report published on its website.
Users in the countryside surged by 60.8 percent year-on-year to 84.6 million, compared with much more modest growth of 35.6 percent in the urban areas, the report said.
The CNNIC report said 117.6 million people accessed the Internet using their mobile phones last year, up 133 percent from 2007.
China, with 633.8 million mobile phone users, last week issued long-awaited licences for third-generation (3G) mobile phones, which enable faster data transmission and services such as wide-area wireless calls and web surfing.
“With the coming of the 3G era, wireless Internet will have exponential growth,” the CNNIC said in a statement accompanying the release of its report.
China’s fast-growing online population has made the Internet a forum for its citizens to express their opinions in a way rarely seen in the traditional, strictly government-controlled media.
It has stirred up Beijing’s fears about potential social unrest, with the government stepping up control of the web in recent years by introducing measures such as requiring bloggers to disclose their real names.