China underwhelmed by golden bridge to net

March 14, 1997

China has integrated its government online service China Golden Bridge Network (CGBN) with the Internet, enabling users to communicate with the rest of the world. But while intellectuals in universities and research institutes are showing interest, the number of Internet users in China has grown much more slowly than expected, especially in the business sector.

Established in 1993, CGBN provides a national public information service on the government's policies and supervision of the economy. The three main tasks of the service are to develop information sources, an information highway, and an information processing system. It has established a satellite telecommunication system linking 24 provinces, municipalities and regions. Now CGBN has started providing Internet services including email, file transfer protocol, news, telnet and gopher, alongside its data bank, training and education services. Institutions and individuals been offered the services free of charge during a trial period which will last for several months.

For the net, CGBN has adopted integrated service digital network (ISDN) and frame relay technologies. The administrative and operational centre of the network, in Beijing, is linked to the national digital data network.

Several companies have cooperated in creating software which allows operation on the net using Chinese characters. Up till now China has had three public network providers through which individuals and institutions can access the net. ChinaNet is operated by the Beijing Telegram Bureau under the Ministry of Post and Communications.

The Chinese State Education Commission and the Chinese Academy of Sciences operate their own separate networks.

But take-up of the net has not matched expectations. BTB's ChinaNet, which provides China's net backbone, says that there are only about 10,000 in China.

Gong Haifeng, general manager of BTB's provider operation Beijing Eastnet Communication Company (BECC), says that indifference to the net in the private sector is probably only a "transient phenomenon".

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