Mobile Overtakes Desktop Internet Access in Rural China

Mobile phones are now the most common way for people to connect to the internet in China, a report has said.

Ethnic minority delegates look at a photo taken with a smartphone in Beijing in this 2012 file photo. Chinese authorities say mobile Internet access has overtaken desktop access in rural China. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

For the first time, desktop computers are no longer the leading method for the country’s 538 million connected citizens to get online.

The report from the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) said over 50% of the year’s new internet users were from rural areas.

A fall in smartphone costs has been the key cause of growth, experts said.

“Mobile phones are a cheaper and more convenient way to access the internet for [residents in] China’s vast rural areas and for the enormous migrant population,” said the report from the state-linked CINIC.

Mobile internet users now number 388 million, up almost 10% since the start of the year.

“Mobile phone prices continued to drop,” the report said.

“The emergence of smartphones under 1,000 yuan (US$ 157) sharply lowered the threshold for using the devices and encouraged average mobile phone users to become mobile web surfers.”

The total number of those online has risen 5% since the end of last year, many of whom are very active in cyberspace.

Bill Dutton, professor of internet studies at the University of Oxford, told the BBC that the trend followed similar growth in other parts of the world.

“We’re moving to what we call next-generation users,” he said.

“They’re likely to have three or four devices in their homes, therefore they’re able to integrate computing into their lives wherever they are.”

He added that the rapid adoption of mobile among the rural community was one of necessity over desire.

“There’s a wave of people coming online that would not otherwise be able to afford to be there.”

Great Firewall

Over half of the connected population in China frequently use microblogging sites like Sina Weibo, a service similar to Twitter which is banned in the country.

The popularity of these services has prompted the government to force users to sign up using their real names.

Internet use in China has had a rocky history. The country has been on the end of sharp criticism from human rights groups for blocking large amounts of content from its citizens – a system which has been dubbed the “Great Firewall of China”.

The report’s implications are likely to have been noticed by the country’s Communist leaders.

Mobile phones are an ideal platform for the microblogs which have become unofficial forums for information about unrest, scandals or disasters.

While internet access through web-browsers is constrained by the Great Firewall, specially written mobile programmes – or apps – frequently circumvent China’s internet controls.

This article originally appeared on BBC News, and was republished with permission.