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Growth slows as China nears half a billion internet users

In the first six months of this year, China added 27.7 million Internet users, putting their grand at 485 million users nationwide. A truly whopping number, yes, but only a minority of the country’s 1.3 billion person population. Also, despite the low penetration, user growth is slowing after large gains in previous years.

Year-over-year, Internet user growth in China has slowed dramatically. For the January-June six-month period this year, growth was 6.1 percent, less than the 9.4 percent growth last year and far less than the Chinese Internet population increase of 20.5 percent in 2008, the same year China’s total Internet population surpassed the United States’.

That means 815 million people in China are still not connected, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). Internet penetration, or the percentage of the population online, is at 36.2 percent in China, compared to 78.2 percent here in the U.S. or 90.2 percent in Greenland.

Brazil has similar Internet penetration, which helps illuminate the implications of the statistics. Both Brazil and China have booming middle classes thanks to strong economic growth, but with two thirds of their populations disconnected in the Internet age, there are still a lot of either rural, poor, elderly or otherwise marginalized people not participating in the online economy while also being unable to access the wealth of information available digitally.

It does seem that in China those that are connected are becoming increasingly so. There are now 318 mobile internet users in China, although growth in that sector is also slowing. More dramatically, users of microblog sites in China (think Twitter, although that particular site is banned) have more than doubled since the end of 2010, with 195 million users blasting short thoughts out into the Web. In light of the Arab Spring, in which information passed through microblogs too quickly for governments to keep up with, this growth in a country with censored Internet is highly intriguing.