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Business News/ Opinion / Bringing 1 billion Indians the Internet they want

Bringing 1 billion Indians the Internet they want

A connected India with access to the web will help businesses grow, power education for the next generation, and create growth for the economy

Photo: iStockphotoPremium
Photo: iStockphoto

There are more than 350 million Indians online, and each month, millions more use the Internet for the first time. Whether in the big cities or villages, people across the country are excited to make the latest technology a part of their lives. A connected India with access to the web will help businesses grow, power education for the next generation, and create growth for the economy.

But there are still nearly one billion Indians without access to the Internet. Government institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the business community are all hard at work on various solutions. Our mission at Google—to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful—has encouraged us to join the efforts. In recent years, we have ramped up things to help speed up the growth of the Internet in India and make the Internet more inclusive overall.

Our approach has been to focus on three key areas: access, products and platforms.

Let’s start with access. Millions of Indians are buying powerful smartphones at always lower prices, but many still are unable to connect those devices to the Internet. Sachet Internet packs alone will not achieve the Digital India vision. One of our first efforts to address this has been our project with RailTel to bring high-speed Wi-Fi to 100 train stations by the end of the year, and eventually 400 stations spanning the breadth of India. While it won’t connect everyone, the 10 million people who pass through these stations every day will be able to not just check their email and chat with friends while waiting on the platform but also stream HD videos. Already more than 10 stations across India have gone live. In Mumbai station alone, over 100,000 users per week are enjoying access to unprecedented speed and reliability of network.

But the responsibility for all of us does not end at just providing access. In effect, it’s not always enough to provide fishing tools but teach them to fish. This is especially true for women, who make up just a third of Internet users in India, and far less in rural communities. In 2014, we partnered with Tata Trusts on an Internet Saathi programme.

Our goal is to reach women in 300,000 villages, provide them with Internet literacy and enable them to positively impact not just their lives but those of other women and their communities. To date, over a thousand Internet Saathis, in the five states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, have trained over 50,000 women in their villages and driven both social and economic impact, be it learning new skills to supplement the household income or farming techniques to improve yields or apprise themselves of government schemes and entitlements. Some are helping their husbands find jobs and their children online tuitions. Each story compels us to do more.

We are mindful of the unique challenges of limited bandwidth today. So, we are adapting our own Google products to work better for all Indians. Loading a Search results page in India to find the latest cricket scores, for example, used to take as long as 8.5 seconds for people on 2G connections. So two years ago, we made a streamlined version of Search that takes only around 2.5 seconds. And when 2G users click on the search results and go wherever they want to on the wider web, we have made the web pages use 80% fewer bytes, to load four times faster. Likewise, in the YouTube mobile app, we enabled Indians to take a video offline for 48 hours while on Wi-Fi and then watch it later even without an Internet connection. Google Maps now has a similar offline feature as well so you can navigate around the city and find local businesses even without the Internet.

Another barrier has been language. The Internet needs to be full of useful information for everyone, not just English speakers. There are more Hindi speakers than English speakers in the world, but if you look at Wikipedia, there are just 100,000 Hindi articles online compared to five million in English. To make it easier for people to communicate online in their own language, we made the Android Google Handwriting app, which lets you handwrite input in 82 languages, including Malayalam and Tamil. And since people often switch between languages and scripts as they talk to each other, our Indic Keyboard input system lets you write in 11 Indian languages with a single click.

Our goal is an inclusive Internet—an Internet that reflects the diversity of the Indian experience—but we cannot do this alone. For a billion Indians to get online, we need the entire ecosystem, both public and private, to contribute. So we are building platforms that allow everyone to contribute and grow with the Internet. Indian developers can easily build apps on Android and distribute them to millions in India.

Innovations and adaptations are critical to bring the next one billion Indians online and we want every person coming online to get as much from the Internet as you and I have.

Rajan Anandan is vice-president and managing director at Google, South East Asia and India.

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Updated: 29 Apr 2016, 05:29 AM IST
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