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Another Internet strategy

A little while ago I wrote about Taiwan's impressive strategy to exploit the powers of the Internet . Internet developments on the mainland are equally as impressive but they do take a somewhat different approach.

I do have to stop providing so many opportunities for exposure to airline food, I may start to like the stuff, in any case, I just got back from about a week in Beijing in the Peoples Republic of China(PRC). I gave some talks at the Chinanet'97 Conference on Information Networks and the Internet and played tourist for a few days (as Richard Nixon was quoted as saying, it sure is a Great Wall). Someone must think that China represents a business opportunity; there were high-level people speaking at the conference from IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Teleglobe, Panasonic , Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) and a number of other international corporations.

While the government of Taiwan is making a concentrated effort to use the Internet as a vehicle by which it can communicate with its citizens the government of the China seems to be more willing to leave things to the marketplace. Most universities are Internet connected in both Taiwan and China but I did not see the same high-profile effort to make the government functions Internet-enabled in the PRC.

There are four national backbone networks in China, two commercial and two government/academic. They run over large fiber optic cable infrastructures and will soon support some 155 Mbps links. The actual Internet user population is quite small, 600,000 or so I was told, but growing very fast. (If someone could figure out how to get good Internet service through cell phones they would make a killing in China. Cell phones are everywhere, constantly ringing, even at the top of the Great Wall.)

This is a government controlled Internet though. All links into and out of China are controlled by the government and, from what I was told, all traffic is funneled through filters to block access to objectionable sites. I do not know who determines the criteria that gets a site on the list nor could I find anyone who could give me examples of sites that got filtered but the control point seems to be there. Of course, this type of filtering approach can only be partially effective, even ineffective if someone has a friend outside of the filter, and has some serious scaling issues (which just may be an issue in China at some point.)

The growth in the interest in the Internet in China is quite impressive. The conference had to turn down more than 2000 requests for admission when the same conference a year ago drew less than 300 attendees. There is a lot of room for growth in China (putting all of China on-line would take about a quarter of the total IPv4 address space so the Chinese are quite interested in IPv6). I do find it interesting and refreshing that the Chinese are letting the commercial sector meet the need rather than attempting to direct this future as previous governments, in China and elsewhere, have tried to do.

disclaimer: Harvard does understand some concepts of billions, but not billions of people, so the above are my wanderings