New Delhi: The Internet is becoming a less alien phenomenon in the countryside, but the development of local-language applications holds the key to connecting more of the 568 million who live in rural India to the World Wide Web, a survey has found.
The study, part of an ongoing joint effort by market research firm IMRB International and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), an industry body, is the first to map Internet usage in rural India. The study was conducted in September.
According to the study, around 15.1 million in the villages have knowledge of how to use the Internet, which includes around 5.5 million rural dwellers who claim to have accessed the Internet at some point of time. Of this, some 3.3 million are active Internet users in rural India.
Also See Digital Data (Graphic)
India as a whole has about 49.5 million Internet users, as per industry estimates, and the increasing rural Internet population presents a potentially lucrative e-commerce market for firms and advertising agencies to target.
“While there will technically be no visible change for the digital industry right now, the growing Internet usage among the rural population opens up a new vertical of mass media, taking Internet mainstream in the next three-four years,” said Sidharth Rao, chief executive officer and co-founder of digital agency Webchutney Studio Pvt. Ltd.
Firms that depend heavily on rural markets also say the adoption of Internet beyond the urban market will open a cost-effective way of reaching their target consumers. “When it comes to digital media, we primarily use the mobile space because of its wide user base. But Coca-Cola is always on the lookout to use Internet, and going forward, if the Internet picks up as well with rural India as mobile has, it does look like a promising platform to connect with our consumer base,” said Viraj Chouhan, spokesperson for Coca-Cola Co.’s Indian unit.
The survey cited a need for localizing online content to spread Internet usage in rural India. “The rural market holds tremendous potential for any media. However, for Internet to flourish in rural India, the applications need to be in vernacular languages, preferably with text to speech capabilities,”said Mohan Krishnan, senior vice-president, business and industrial research division, a specialized unit of IMRB.
“It would be better if visual symbols, graphics and rich media applications are used,” he added. “The key question is whether we have the right infrastructure to support these applications.”