A two-year study of Internet use and its impact in China reveals that the key drivers behind its growth are market forces, including people's increasing desire to go online and competition among service providers, and the government's view of the information technology sector as an engine for economic growth.

The study also examines the demographics and attitudes of Internet users in China, finding that a majority of them expect the Internet will bring more freedom of speech and create more opportunities to express their political views.

Surveying Internet Usage and Impact in Twelve Chinese Cities is based on door-to-door interviews with 2457 Internet users (and 1484 non-Internet users) and was directed by Professor Guo Liang of Beijing's Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS). In addition, case studies were conducted in five small cities. The project, developed and supported by the Markle Foundation, is a unique, in-depth look at Internet usage in China and its impact on Chinese society. The complete study is available at www.markle.org.

The report identifies the main drivers behind the growth of the Internet in China as:

– Internet Companies – Competition among Internet service provider companies has lead to low costs, better services and more access. The report notes that unlike other sectors in China, a single state-owned company does not control the Internet industry.

– Government – The Chinese government considers the IT industry an engine of economic growth. In addition, the Chinese government has created an aggressive e-government program to better share information between government agencies.

– Individual User Demand – The Internet provides a new and exciting source of entertainment and a way to communicate, especially for young people. The Internet also makes it easier to find information than through the traditional media and is a place where people can express their own opinions.

– Internet cafes – While the number of Internet cafes has greatly decreased in the metropolitan cities due to the government's efforts to avoid "social problems," the number of Internet cafes in provincial capitals and small cities is growing rapidly.

"With the arrival of the Internet, the Chinese people have the opportunity to access information, communicate and conduct economic transactions in a new way," said Professor Guo Liang. "The findings of our study suggest that while the Internet is still relatively new to China, it is already changing Chinese cultural, social and political institutions."

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