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(Dis)connecting the Pearl River Delta: Case study of a borderland telecommunications infrastructure in South China, 1978-2002
Unformatted Document Text:  19 New stratificational gaps also emerge in the process of telecom development. While in the Maoist age access to telecom services was largely restricted to a relatively homogenous population consisting mostly of government officials, today’s telecom users include members from a much wider social spectrum. Low-income groups, those who are less educated, and migrant workers are among the groups most likely to be discriminated in the telecom market. Survey data suggests that social economic status is positively correlated with people’s connectedness to telecom services. 47 However, age is negatively associated 48 because it is easier for youngsters to adopt new communication technologies, such as short-messaging service 49 and online chatting, 50 which have become closely associated with urban youth identity nowadays. The spread of new gadget among youth groups, however, is a source of anxiety among older generations, especially parents, who fear they are left behind and cut off from their children by the new telecom generation gap, or the cross-generational “digital divide.” 51 The third type of disconnections is institutional blockade, by which I mean, first, officially commanded discontinuities such as the denial of entry to certain types of telecom business or the interruption of information flow. Telecommunications in China is one of the most heavily regulated economic sectors. Foreign ownership or China-foreign joint ownership is not permitted in most telecom service-provision markets, although the sanction is expected to be alleviated in a few years with China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Even for domestic telecom operators, obtaining license is a difficult process, if not entirely impossible. In the burgeoning city of Dongguan, for example, a local Unicom representative revealed that the city government has never issued a single license for Internet café despite the city’s exploding population (6.5 million in 2001), of which 4.9 million are new immigrants who tend to rely on Internet cafés for Internet access. 52 China also 47 Total connectedness to telecom technologies is calculated by summing up ownership of home phone, work phone, cell phone, pager, and the use of fax machine and the Internet. This telecom connectedness score is positively correlated with income (r = .322, p < .001) and education (r = .574, p < .001). 48 Telecom connectedness is negatively correlated with age (r = -.204, p < .001). 49 For more comprehensive introduction to the bang of short-messaging services, see the special issues of New Weekly (xinzhoukan), July 15, 2002, pp. 16-57. 50 Same as above note 39. 51 This is a theme repetitively found in local newspaper articles. It also surfaced in one of the focus groups for long-term residents, where two housewives expressed this concern. 52 Population figures compiled from Dongguan Windows ( http://www.dg.gd.cn/windows/rkgc.htm ). Survey data from Zhuhai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen also reveal that 67.3% immigrants use Internet cafés as a major access to the new technology; and that 41.7% of them first learned how to surf the Internet in netbars. These figures are significantly higher than the proportion of long-term residents who use Internet cafés (41.7%) or first learned to use Internet in netbars (20.3%).

Authors: Qiu, Jack.
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19
New stratificational gaps also emerge in the process of telecom development. While
in the Maoist age access to telecom services was largely restricted to a relatively
homogenous population consisting mostly of government officials, today’s telecom
users include members from a much wider social spectrum. Low-income groups,
those who are less educated, and migrant workers are among the groups most likely
to be discriminated in the telecom market. Survey data suggests that social
economic status is positively correlated with people’s connectedness to telecom
services.
47
However, age is negatively associated
48
because it is easier for
youngsters to adopt new communication technologies, such as short-messaging
service
49
and online chatting,
50
which have become closely associated with urban
youth identity nowadays. The spread of new gadget among youth groups, however,
is a source of anxiety among older generations, especially parents, who fear they are
left behind and cut off from their children by the new telecom generation gap, or the
cross-generational “digital divide.”
51
The third type of disconnections is institutional blockade, by which I mean, first,
officially commanded discontinuities such as the denial of entry to certain types of
telecom business or the interruption of information flow. Telecommunications in
China is one of the most heavily regulated economic sectors. Foreign ownership or
China-foreign joint ownership is not permitted in most telecom service-provision
markets, although the sanction is expected to be alleviated in a few years with
China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Even for domestic telecom
operators, obtaining license is a difficult process, if not entirely impossible. In the
burgeoning city of Dongguan, for example, a local Unicom representative revealed
that the city government has never issued a single license for Internet café despite
the city’s exploding population (6.5 million in 2001), of which 4.9 million are new
immigrants who tend to rely on Internet cafés for Internet access.
52
China also
47
Total connectedness to telecom technologies is calculated by summing up ownership of home phone,
work phone, cell phone, pager, and the use of fax machine and the Internet. This telecom connectedness
score is positively correlated with income (r = .322, p < .001) and education (r = .574, p < .001).
48
Telecom connectedness is negatively correlated with age (r = -.204, p < .001).
49
For more comprehensive introduction to the bang of short-messaging services, see the special issues of
New Weekly (xinzhoukan), July 15, 2002, pp. 16-57.
50
Same as above note 39.
51
This is a theme repetitively found in local newspaper articles. It also surfaced in one of the focus
groups for long-term residents, where two housewives expressed this concern.
52
Population figures compiled from Dongguan Windows (
http://www.dg.gd.cn/windows/rkgc.htm
).
Survey data from Zhuhai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen also reveal that 67.3% immigrants use Internet
cafés as a major access to the new technology; and that 41.7% of them first learned how to surf the
Internet in netbars. These figures are significantly higher than the proportion of long-term residents who
use Internet cafés (41.7%) or first learned to use Internet in netbars (20.3%).


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