Friday, July 25, 2008

China: 253 Million Internet Users and Counting...

Ten years ago, before co-founding Authentium, I traveled to Beijing to meet with China Radio International and discuss a possible joint venture with them and the satellite company I was working for.

I've always loved going to China. But this time there were several notable highlights to the trip.

One of the highlights was a tour of CRI's multistory, mid-city facility, during which we were shown several interesting items, including their concert hall, a map of the Chinese shortwave radio grid and the China National Radio Museum.

The museum was fascinating. At the time, CRI was broadcasting over its shortwave grid (and via AM repeater stations) in 49 languages, including Esperanto. Arranged in a large darkened room in glass and wood cabinets were gifts from all over the world, including operettas in Hungarian, bottles of whiskey (unopened), and hand-written song requests.

In one cabinet, sat the polished gray and chrome microphone used by Chairman Mao to proclaim the new order, from the Peace Hotel in Shanghai.

I checked into the room Mao stayed in during a previous visit when I was there in 1995. The room cost me $140 for the night. The guys in the jazz band in the bar downstairs were all eighty years old.

After the museum, we ended up in the basement of the building looking at a map showing the shortwave repeater stations... but what really took my attention was a powerpoint slide showing the fiber being laid between the major cities.

One of the guys in our small group said something like "this is a very ambitious plan". Our translator translated this and the Chinese just shook their heads and smiled at the poor naive Westerners sitting across from them.

"This is not our plan", our guide explained. "This is our current capacity".

He went on to explain that in major cities they already had fiber passing about 70% of buildings, and broadband uptake was in double digits and growing fast. We all looked at each other, and then looked back at the maps, and wondered - could this really be the case?

Could China have really built the largest broadband network in the world?

The news out of China today - that they now have 253 million Internet users sitting in a market that is growing above 50% a year - shows that indeed they have.

I wouldn't be surprised if it is announced next week by the ITU that China already has more broadband users than the US: after all, they were ranked second by the international body at the end of 2005.

Commentators will come out in the next few days and claim these numbers are inflated. I don't think so. Based on what we saw a decade ago, I think the numbers are real, and I think the growth figures are real too.

Note: Check out the image above - yes, that really is a program guide from China Radio International in Esperanto, complete with banner ads, also is Esperanto. Don't believe me? Click on it and check out CNI's site.

1 comment:

Bill Chapman said...

Yes, China has been using Esperanto for many years for publicity - some might say propaganda. Indeed, Esperanto reaches an engaged audience and readership that English does not reach.

As a young man I was a subscriber to "El Popola Ĉinio" a lively magazine in Esperanto about this huge country. You don't need to believe everything you read, whatever the language!