China Surpasses US In Number of Internet Users.

by Chuck Kisselburg

While leaving my hotel the other day I happened to glance at the USA Today newspaper. At the bottom of the front page was a story titled, “ChinaUSA in Internet users vaults past ”. As the story points out, the number of Chinese on the Internet hit more than 220 million by February, compared to 216 US Internet users at the end of 2007.

While US-based internet usage for 2007 had grown 53% over the following year to reach the 216 million mark, it should be noted that of the US’s 304 million people, 71% use the Internet today. China, on the other hand with it’s higher figure and strong growth rate (233 million at the end of March vs 220 million in January), only 17% of its 1.3 billion population uses the Internet. As you can see China has a LONG way to go before starting to reach a point of saturation.

Being that I was at a conference all day whose focus was on the Domaining industry, I was not able to see how much attention this story received on any of the evening news stations. I am pleased, however, that this story was not buried within the newspaper as this is a very significant story.

Last February I blogged on the concept of IDNs and the perception of IDNs being on ICANN’s fast track. So based on the fact that China has been forging ahead with the potential of “Their Own Internet” and seeing that the number of users of the Internet has surpassed that of the US is rather significant to me.

While the story came and went on the pages of USA Today, I can’t help but think of the following aspects of this milestone:

1). How distinct is China’s Internet over the Internet you and I use today and what impact might varying internets have on each other? (I am referring to the root server system.)

2). What impact will this have on the overall IDN conversation? Is China doing what works for their users and how might this impact the way a Chinese-based Internet affects application development (as highlighted in my posting on “Practical Implications Regarding ICANN’s IDN TLD Evaluation Deployment in the Root Zone”), allowing for a culturally good Internet experience as well as ICANN’s process for IDN script development?

So while China is shooting beyond the US regarding number of users on the Internet, it will be interesting to watch other countries do the same, especially when IDNs are rolling out. It will also be interesting to see how the Internet “industry”, as we know it today, may shift. It will also be interesting to see how, if any, instances or segments of the Internet may grow and operate without following any of the established policies and agreements established through ICANN, as may be the case with China.

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