China has edged past the US in terms of the number of Internet users to reach the number one slot, a research firm said.
China had reported the number of Internet users at 210 million by the end of last year, very close to 216 million of the US.
But, "according to our calculations, China has already replaced the US as the country with most Internet users by the end of last month," Liu Bin, an analyst at the Beijing-based research firm BDA was quoted as saying by the state-run China Daily.
The US remained at the topmost position since the inception of the internet in 1969 as a network of computers under the auspices of the US Department of Defence. BDA Chairman Duncan Clark said Chinas Internet population was driven by buoyant economy, massive investments in broadband infrastructure and a strong consumer demand for online applications.
Government-backed research institution China Internet Network Information Centre said China moved to the second position by the end of 2002, when the number of its internet users exceeded 59.1 million.
However, CNNIC said Chinas Internet penetration was a mere 16 per cent last year, lower than the world average of 19.1 per cent.