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China Leads in Cell Users, Net Constraints

A new market research report from the Computer Industry Almanac estimates the number of cell phone users worldwide will exceed 2 billion by the end of 2005, and may reach 3.2 billion by 2010 as usership increases Russia and heavily-populated Asian nations like India.

By the end of 2005, the Computer Industry Almanac estimates China will have nearly 400 million cell phone users, almost double the 202 million in the United States. Russia will move into third place with 115 million subscribers, while Japan and Brazil will round out the top five with 94.7 million and 85.5 million subscribers, respectively. Smaller European countries, Taiwan, and Hong Kong will be rapidly outpaced in total usership by more-populous nations, although those early-adopters will continue to have higher cellular subscribers per capita than larger nations.

China, with its massive population, leads the pack for cellular subscribers, and currently it’s second only to the United States in the total number of Internet users (100 million, compared to the 135 million in the U.S.). But China also has the dubious distinction of being one of the countries most actively constraining what its population can read and write online, as the central government tries to maximize the economic growth permitted by Internet technology without providing tools to any nascent political opposition.

Sunday, Beijing announced new regulations which unilaterally proclaimed only "healthy and civilized" news in the areas of current events and politics will be permitted. The new regulations aim to "standardize the management of news and information" — any news the state deems to be against the public interest or contrary to state security is prohibited. Only items which improve the quality of the nation, its economic development, and social progress are permitted.

China has also closed thousands of cybercafes in the last few years—cafes being one of the only ways Chinese citizens who cannot afford computers can access the Internet. In Shanghai, authorities have installed surveillance cameras in cybercafes and starting requiring visitors register using official ID. Reporters without Borders—the same watchdog group which recently published a guidebook to avoiding online censorship—reported that a Chinese journalist was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing email about media restrictions in China; the Chinese government obtained his identity from Yahoo’s China operations, which apparently handed over the identifying information without protest.

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