China and the Internet

These are notes from a conversation I had in Sydney with an expert on the Internet scene in China. Don't quote me as per the accuracy!! the info is from hastily sketched notes. but it may provide some kind of brief overview of the internet scene in China


CERNET, the academic network has its own infrastructure, as does the Chinese military.
for a map of CERNET -- China's academic network

all other <ie commercial> traffic comes into China on China Net on one recently-upgraded-to 512 k line. From there is goes out to the other commercial ISPs. One is Jitonet (?), operated by the Chinese telco, one is Chinabyte (News Ltd) and there are a number of others. there are no connections between the ISPs. So all local traffic goes back through the hub of China Net. the link to the ISPs from the Chinanet hub is 128 k.

So the internal traffic is extremely slow.
The going rate cost for an ISP to upgrade to say, a 512 K line (ie between China Net and itself) is around US$16,000 per month. In the United States, this would buy you 3 x T3 links . So the cost is literally crazy.

Two main inhibitors to the infrastructure:
-- the gateway setup, which satisfies the hardliners that information is being controlled, and the
-- the lack of interconnections between the network within China

The gateway censors the web only. It does not do a content based search etc on text-based email. it merely cuts out certain IP numbers, like the websites of china news digest, various tibetan sites etc

Numbers of users have, in three years,  moved from 30,000 users to now more then a million, which is around the same as the Australian user-base. Even the farmers are checking commodity prices on the net .

There is a huge sudden access to information. Even if it seems slow, to the Chinese who have had nothing for so long it doesn't seem slow.

the Chinese are great collectors of data. Now the People's daily is on line and the State Council for Information Office is also on line. (this belongs to the party)

 (Chinabyte has developed a search engine which uses chinese characters)

The formerly-named Propaganda Department is all powerful. This dept is now called the Publicity Department. it controls all the information, and is responsible for the projection of China's image to the outside world.
. Under it are the
- state council office of information, which deals with the internet
- state press and publications administration

the internet is at present in a kind of grey area. It is viewed as a technical issue, not so much as an information issue. So it falls under the more technical arm of the publicity dept ie the State Council for Information Office. (and then into the arms of the MPT it seems, sorry a bit unclear still about the link) which is great. the State Press and Publications administration has a stranglehold on any kind of information . So that advertising and publishing on the net bypasses the licensing laws. the internet doesn't fit anywhere, it is a grey area.

the Ministry for Post and Telecommunications (MPT) sees the internet as 'information technology' not as an issue of content.

There is an advantage to being under the MPT . however the “public security bureau” which is like the CIA, FBI have been given a role in a decree signed by the government.

the internet is a huge asset in a country like China, and Chinese language sites are going up a very fast rate

starved of information for so long, the internet will be one of the biggest factors in opening up the country.  The blocking of sites keeps the old guard happy, while it is really business as usual. The real impediment is the official infrastructure.

This is (apparently) recognised by the MPT - Ministry for Post and Telecommunications, is hugely powerful . a huge monolith with enormous economic clout. It generates the most $ of all government departments.  Fibre cable is being layed at a very fast rate, trying to connect up the systmes provinces are/will become mini-intranets.
There is huge economic pressure to open up the access and speed. the internet is driving the state because it makes money. the diaspora is driving it. IBM researching the electronic payment possibilities/bypass the middlemen, drive the next wave of infrastructure development.

infrastructure is more advanced, digital networks. In ten years, the infrastructure will be more advanced than the US. Already there are 70 million homes with cable TV,  mainly analog. these 20-30 channels have data capacity (not being used yet).

the further from Beijing, the easier, more open it is.

There are other ways around this bottleneck of the single gateway. In Shenzen the military is buying up bandwidth from Hong Kong.

In Gangzhou, using cablelink and satellite links to get it going, to bypass the bottleneck. yes it is technically illegal, but...

the military operates a parallel information infrastructure, and they are _under the table_ selling off bandwidth. they can lease you 256k on a pipe. but you never know how long you've got it for etc

Military and some other government departments, some deals have been done. govt dept have to make money now. There is a lot of don't say, don't ask going on.

And as far as the MPT is concerned, they have a commercial company, they have an incentive to make the money as does the government, as the money flows back to them.
internet update
from "The Australian" newspaper, September 30 1999

Internet usage in China is rapidly growing.
March 1998 670,000 users
November 1998 1.2 million users
January 1999 2.1 million users
By 2001, IDC, the Boston-based technology analysis company, estimates that there will be 27 million internet users in China.