China: February 23, 2003


China's struggle with the Internet continues. A crackdown on unlicensed Internet cafes last Summer has closed nearly half of them. A fire in one Internet cafe last June (that killed 25 university students) made senior government officials aware of the extent of unlicensed operations (110,000 of the 200,000 Internet cafes). The government has had problems with losing control of the media because of the growing reach of the Internet among the Chinese population. News of disasters and corruption, that the government would usually suppress, has begun to spread rapidly via the Internet and the Internet cafes are the main source of Internet access for most Chinese. This is changing as more people get computers, and phones, at home. But in many parts of China, wireless phones are easier to get (half of Chinas 430 million phones are wireless), and not really suitable for Internet access. So the Internet cafes still serve a lot of people. Or used to. There are now only 110,000 Internet cafes, all licensed and more likely to be in urban areas where Internet cafes are increasingly used for playing online games, not checking the news or exchanging forbidden political views. The crackdown on unlicensed Internet cafes has made it more difficult to open licensed ones in areas where the local communist party doesn't want unregulated competition in the news business. 


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