Internet /history and structure


Internet /history and structure
By the end of 2001, official statistics put the number of Internet users in China at 33.7 million, showing an accelerating growth rate of 27 per cent over the preceding six-month period (CNNIC 2002). Although this represents less than 3 per cent of the country’s population it reveals a massive growth in Internet use since the mid 1990s. In 1994, there were only 1,600 users in the entire country. These figures reflect the way in which the Internet in China has developed from being a largely specialist research- and education-oriented network in its early years, to being an increasingly popular medium of mass information, entertainment and commerce.
The Internet in China dates back to 1987 when two education- and research-oriented computer networks, the China Academic Network (CANET) and the Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) network, were established. In 1990 these were joined by the China Research Network (CRNET) and in 1996 these three networks combined to form the China Science and Technology Network (CSTNET) under the supervision of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
By the year 2000 China’s Internet was made up of eight principal interconnecting networks: China Science and Technology Network (CSTNET) under the jurisdiction of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS); CHINANET under the Ministry of Information Industries (MII); China Education and Research Network (CERNET) under the State Education Commission (SEC); China Golden Bridge Network (CHINAGBN); UNINET under telecoms operator China Unicom and the MII; China Network Communications Network (CNCNET) under telecoms and broadband operator China Netcom; China International Economics and Trade Network (CIETNET) under the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC); and China Mobile Network (CMNET) again under the MII and mobile telecoms operator China Mobile. To these should be added the military’s China Great Wall Network (CGWNET) and China Satellite Network (CSNET) still being completed in early 2002.
The SEC launched its own educational network, CERNET, in 1993 with the aim of linking up first the nation’s universities and eventually also middle and primary schools. However, shortly after that the development of the Internet became increasingly embroiled in issues of commercial and interministerial rivalry.
A key issue that dictated the development of the structure and functioning of the Internet is that of funding and ownership. A clear contrast has emerged between the ownership and control of the infrastructure and Internet service provision on the one hand and Internet content on the other. Importantly, much of the infrastructural development was funded by central government and in the early years the lines were predominantly owned by the dominant telecoms operator China Telecom who leased out use of the lines to the fledgling networks. However, as the Internet developed, ownership of the growing number of networks was increasingly in the hands of ministries and their subsidiary telecoms operators.
In 1993 the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPT), which merged with its rival the Ministry of Electronic Industries (MEI) in 1998 to become the MII, set up its own packet-data network
Table 2 China’s Internet networks
Network Established Operator and/or ministerial interest
International bandwidth (Mbps), December 2002
CHINANET 1993 as CHINAPAC renamed 1995
Initially MPT then MII through China Telecom 6,032
CNCNET 1999 MR, SARFT, CAS, Shanghai Municipality through China Netcom 465
UNINET 1999/2000 MEI then MII through China Unicom 418
CERNET 1994
SEC 257.5
CMNET 1999/2000 MII through China Mobile 200
CHINAGBN 1996 MEI then MII through Jitong Communications 168
CSTNET 1987 (CANET and IHEP Network) 1990 (CRNET) combined in 1996 as CSTNET
CAS 55
CIETNET 1999/2000
MOFTEC
Source: CNNIC 2002.
initially called CHINAPAC but which later become the dominant network CHINANET run by China Telecom.
At about the same time the MEI set up its own company called China Jitong Communications which was involved in various telecoms and Internet infrastructure projects including the Golden Bridge Network (CHINAGBN) which was set up in 1996. CHINAGBN was initially intended to serve financial institutions and enhance flow of information for them across the country, but it soon also provided Internet connectivity to other users also. The MEI had other Internet interests through its other subsidiary telecoms provider China Unicom which set up China UNINET.
The establishment of the MII, however, did not end inter-ministerial rivalry as MOFTEC launched its CIETNET in 2000, the same year that China Netcom was set up by a conglomerate of interests including the Ministry of Railways (MR) and the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). By the end of 2001, these combined networks gave China an international bandwidth (a measure of network capacity) of 7,597.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) distributed among the various networks as in Table 2.
Internet service providers (ISPs), offering Internet access to businesses and the general public first emerged in 1995. Initially ISPs, running under licence from the network operators, were predominantly owned and run by regional branches of China Telecom in the major cities and more advanced provinces such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Zhejiang although there were also a small number of independent operators.
The dominance of the local telecoms administrators among ISPs was only enhanced, however, by the high set-up costs, low revenues and high line rental fees. In 1999 as much as 80 per cent of ISP expenditure went on line leasing from China Telecom (Harwit and Clark 2001:390). Although user numbers were starting to grow steadily and sharply, their still relatively small numbers could not offset such high running costs and only ISPs with deep-pocketed backers, such as the local telecoms operators, survived.
By contrast Internet content provision has flourished in the private sector although following the so-called global ‘dotcom downturn’ of 2000–1, many content providers have struggled to survive on advertising revenues alone and branched out into other areas.
CNNIC (2002). Statistical Report of the Development of the Internet in China (2002/1). Beijing: China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC).
Harwit, E. and Clark, D. (2001). ‘Shaping the Internet in China: Evolution of Political Control over Network Infrastructure and Content’. Asian Survey 41.3: 377–408.
Hughes, Christopher and Wacker, Gudrun (eds) (2003). China and the Internet: Politics of the Digital Leap Forward. London: Curzon.
Liu, Kang (2004). ‘The Internet in China: Emergent Cultural Formations and Contradictions’. In idem, Globalization and Cultural Trends in China. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 127–61.
KEVIN LATHAM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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