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More Internet Access to Farmers
Statistics from the Ministry of Science and Technology revealed yesterday that the total number of Internet users in rural China has reached 600,000.

The figure is in sharp contrast to the country's entire number of Internet users which currently stands at more than 60 million.

Given that the majority of Chinese lives in the countryside, such a digital divide between urban and rural areas is astounding as well as worrying.

Owing to the rapid development and popularization of information technology (IT), China now boasts the world's second largest population of Internet surfers.

But the Internet penetration rate is still at a very low level nationwide when the country's large population of about 1.3 billion is taken into account. The picture in rural areas is obviously even more gloomy.

Many factors, including the lack of infrastructure and funds, contribute to the problem.

Official statistics showed about 30 million people in 1,061 townships, mainly in remote rural areas in the vast Northwest region, did not have access to electricity last year. A far greater number of rural people suffer from an inadequate supply of electricity and substandard power networks.

The broadening income gap between urban and rural residents - which experts estimate could be 5 to 1 or even 6 to 1 in terms of per capita income - also greatly constrains rural people's consumption of high-tech products.

Personal computers, which are a daily necessity to many urban residents at present, are still considered an extravagant purchase by rural people.

On the other hand, owing to low education levels and the lack of a sufficient channel to get information, words like "Internet" and "surfing" are still foreign to many rural residents.

Poor access to the Internet will shut the doors of the newest technology and information to farmers, putting barriers in front of the modernization of agriculture as well as the increase in the incomes of farmers.

If something cannot be done to reverse this situation, the broadening digital divide could easily hinder the country's efforts to catch up with the world in terms of IT skills and achievement.

(China Daily February 13, 2003)

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