China pushes for big jump in Internet speeds

China’s government is pressing for faster Internet access speeds and lower prices, two moves that aim to boost the number of its citizens going online.

On Friday, all three of China’s telecommunications operators announced plans to lower broadband and data plan costs for consumers. This came a month after China’s premier Li Keqiang said the country needed to do more to expand Internet access.

China has the world’s largest Internet-connected citizenry at over 649 million users, but that’s still less than half of the country’s population. And average Internet speeds in China are 3.4 megabits per second(Mbps), far lower than the U.S. where average access speeds reach 11.1 Mbps, according to Akamai Technologies.

The government has set aggressive goals to raise connection speeds in the next few years. By the end of 2017, most homes will have access to 100 Mbps Internet, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on Friday.

Those high-speed services don’t come cheap. For example, China Telecom, one of the country’s biggest providers of broadband, charges 3000 yuan ($493) a year for its 100 Mbps service. But on Friday, China Telecom said it would lower the price by 30 percent or more.

By the end of 2017, the Chinese government hopes to see average Internet speeds at over 30 Mbps in urban homes, and 20 Mbps for rural residents, even if users don’t choose to pay for the top-end speeds.

Currently, most Chinese Internet users go online using their mobile phones. On Friday, China’s three mobile carriers also announced they would slash prices on data plans. China Mobile customers, for example, will have the option to pay 50 yuan ($8.2) for 2GB in monthly data, a price decrease of 50 percent.

Over the next three years, China will continue pouring funds into its telecommunications infrastructure, IT regulators said on Friday. The country’s three mobile carriers are all state-controlled.

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