Chinese Internet Usage Rivals U.S.

pewlogo.pngThe Pew research group just released a study (PDF) today outlining the growth of internet users in China today. The study estimates there are 137 million internet users, second only to the US’ online population estimated at 165 million to 210 million. ComScore estimated the entire online population at 694 million last May.

Natrually, with a population of 1,321,851,888, they have a higher possible number of users than the US. In fact the growth in Chinese users is out pacing the growth in the US, and China is projected to overtake the U.S. in the total number of users within a few years. China’s internet population grew by 18% in 2004 and 2005, and 23% in 2006.

For the past few years China huge economy and user base has been a big target for online businesses, but has remained a tricky market to enter. These problems have largely been cultural and political, rather than technical. The language barrier allowed a Chinese Facebook clone to be snatched up. eBay was close to selling off its Chinese operations after facing cultural problems and stiff competition from the homegrown, which coincidentally distributes Skype. That rumored sale became a partnership and relaunch this summer. Search engines, Google most notably, have had difficult ethical decisions with China’s political restrictions on information.

Broadband’s increasing growth in China is heartening for bandwidth intensive programs like Skype and IPTV. Recent numbers estimated China’s broadband population nearly on par with the US at 56.2 million (US 60.3 million) during Q1 2007. Skype reportedly had over 25 million Chinese users toward the end of last year, growing at 100,000 users a day. That’s similar to the meteoric growth iLike experienced after launching on Facebook.

Below is a map outlining internet usage worldwide. Click to expand.