The Decade-long March Toward a Nation Online: An Evaluation of China’s Evolving Broadband Policy

Meheroo Jussawalla Research Prize Award


  • Chun Liu, Associate Professor, School of Economics and Management , Southwest Jiaotong University, Peoples Rep. of China




There is now strong interest among governments in promoting the development of the next generation broadband network and some 134 national broadband plans are now in place around the world. China is of no exception. On August 1, 2013, China's State Council officially announced the ambitious Broadband China Plan, aiming to build a ubiquitous, fast and advanced national broadband network before 2020.

Traditionally, China’s telecommunications development has been driven by investments from government-allied entities and features a strong industrial policy, which arguably made telecommunications sector the jewel in the crown of the socialist market economy, particularly in the 1990s. However, recent statistics show that China telecommunications infrastructure development has already moved from the early jump-start stage to a more stable position. Will the Broadband China Plan lead to another leap forward?

This paper aims to critically evaluate China's evolving broadband policy and identify lessons for other countries. In order to do that, based on the review of existing research, a two-dimensional analytical framework, with the different stages of broadband development represented by columns and the four components of broadband ecosystem by rows, is proposed. Preliminary analysis has shown that China’s broadband policy is now experiencing a major paradigm shift, from regarding broadband infrastructure as an optional value-added telecommunications service to recognizing it as a strategic public facility and a necessity for every citizen. However, policy changes seem not to keep upon with the broadband ecosystem evolution. China’s recent broadband policy remains a conventional supply-side industrial policy and its effectiveness is highly uncertain. To some extent, the Chinese saying "old wine in a new bottle" seems to aptly grasp the essence of China’s recent national broadband plan.

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