China plans to allocate additional funds to rural areas to improve the internet infrastructure and extend broadband connections to promote e-commerce and boost trade.

A government programme aims to integrate the internet with the logistics sector to reduce costs, increase profits, stimulate consumption and boost employment, according to a statement by the State Council’s executive meeting, chaired by Premier Li Keqiang. The State Council is China’s Cabinet.

China has 195 million internet users in rural areas, accounting for 28 per cent of the country’s total, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC). The number of rural netizens last year grew 9.5 per cent last year, almost double the rate for urban internet users.

E-commerce giants such as Alibaba, JD and Suning Electronic are expanding into rural areas as markets in first- and second-tier cities become saturated, China Daily reported.

Weak infrastructure
But China ranks 91st out of more than 200 countries in broadband download speeds, and internet access in the country’s rural areas is much slower than in cities, the newspaper said.

A year ago, after Li criticised the country’s mobile internet for being expensive and slow, the telecoms regulator pledged to push industry players to lower prices and improve speeds. The country’s three operators in May committed to reducing data prices by 20-35 per cent, as well as improving network speeds.

Online shopping in rural China has huge potential since 22 per cent of online shoppers live in townships and villages, according to a CINIC report.

This number is expanding rapidly and rural online buyers may outnumber urban shoppers within ten years, making the buildout of a robust broadband infrastructure an imperative, China Daily said.