I spend 3 weeks a year waiting for websites to load

by Alex Duncan  |  July 23, 2011 – 12:28 pm


For the past 6 months I have been losing 2-3 hours per week in productivity and this time it’s not due to my hideous, world beating, ability to procrastinate. It’s due to the chronic state of the internet in China.

Coming to Dalian last month I naively hoped that things would be better here up North. I had heard that Shanghai’s internet connectivity was the worst in China. I dreamt about the prospect of web pages that loaded in seconds and emails that send first time you click. My hopes turned out to be entirely mistaken. The internet here in Dalian is at very best on a par with that in Shanghai.

Firstly, this is deliberate, it simply cannot be a bandwidth or hardware issue. That problem is just too easy not to fix, undersea fibres are not prohibitively expensive or difficult to lay down and network hardware is cheaper and faster than ever before. It simply has to be a concerted effort to further disconnect China’s version of the internet from the rest of the world.

Any chinese net censors listening in on skype calls rather than finding out any juicy info must just get so so bored of listening to people saying “hello?!”, “are you there”, “I can hear you, can you hear me” endlessly.

Expats in China talk of a day when there will be two internets, well my friends as far as I’m concerned that day is already here. Everything that exists on the western internet has an equally capable and infinitely more filterable Chinese alternative. Any new ideas get copied in mere weeks if not hours.

I’ve wondered for a while at what point does the slow speed of the internet have a noticeable negative economic effect.

Here is my perspective on the situation. It already is having a huge effect and it shows no sign of getting any better.

I recently did some work for a large multi-national company based in Shanghai. Being an US headquartered company many of the tools and resources we were required to use were US based. On a good day we would lose a minimum of 30 mins due to connectivity issues, on average I would estimate 45mins was lost. If we total 30mins up, that’s 2.5hrs a week, ~10hrs a month, 120hrs a year or the equivalent of 3 full working weeks. Just to re-iterate how crazy that is we are at the very least wasting 3 full working weeks per year due to the chronic state of the internet here in China.

What must the effect be on a macro scale? It must add up to millions of hours and the equivalent of thousands of employees time completely wasted. China is an export economy, trade depends upon their ability to communicate with and sell things to the rest of the world, how is this not having a noticeable impact? Surely there are deals that don’t get done because websites don’t load, emails can’t be sent and skype calls repeatedly fail.

Before people email me with fancy solutions involving VPNs and connections via satellites and god knows what else believe me I’ve tried them all and none of them are sufficiently reliable to overcome this issue.

“When will I leave China?” I hear you asking.

Ever since the internet started to degrade there has been idle chit chat about whether or not it would force them to leave the country.

If you asked me a year ago it would have been almost inconceivable to me that a lack of internet connectivity would cause me to quit, but as I write this I see it as only a matter of time. Whether it is one year or two, there will be some point in the future when I, as someone whose work, nay entire existence, revolves around the internet will simply have to pack my bags and leave for somewhere where my stress levels are lower and I can breathe a little easier.

Update: New research from Harvard shows that the Chinese intranet is already here.