updated 7/19/2006 8:38:16 AM ET 2006-07-19T12:38:16

China's population of Internet users, already the world's second-biggest after the U.S., has jumped by nearly 20 percent over the past year to 123 million, with broadband access soaring, the government said Wednesday.

The United States has some 204 million Internet users.

The number of Web sites in China rose by more than 110,000 to a total of 788,400, the official China Internet Network Information Center said in an annual survey.

China encourages Internet use for business and education and has invested heavily in broadband service, though the communist government tries to bar access to material considered pornographic or subversive.

The number of Internet users in China with broadband service jumped by 45 percent over the past year to 77 million, or about two-thirds of the total online population, the Internet agency said.

The average Chinese Internet user now spends 16.5 hours per week online, a new record high, the agency said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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