India’s population at the end of 2012 was 1.23 billion, up from 1.03 billion in 2010 while the mu,ber of Internet users in the same period increased from 69.2 million to 116.18 million, which is just 9.6% of the total population. Photo: Bloomberg
India’s population at the end of 2012 was 1.23 billion, up from 1.03 billion in 2010 while the mu,ber of Internet users in the same period increased from 69.2 million to 116.18 million, which is just 9.6% of the total population. Photo: Bloomberg

True Internet penetration in India is less than 10%

For a country where right to information is a law, India can't become rightly and equitably informed until we have the Internet in every household

Last week, the world gathered in Bali, Indonesia, for the 8th Internet Governance Forum (IGF). While IGF is a non-decision-making body with multi-stakeholder participation that discusses all aspects of the Internet in our life, it announced that more than 60% of the world is still not connected to the Internet.

It is interesting that even after 18 years of the Internet’s introduction in India, the true penetration of this global medium is less than 10%. And yet, the way we talk about the Internet in our daily newspapers, television and radio, it gives a feeling we already have Internet as a mass media.

I really wish it was true. Considering the democratic nature of the Internet, and for the country where the right to information (RTI) is a law, sadly our country cannot become rightly and equitably informed until we have the Internet in every household.

Recently, I bought a report from eStatsIndia.com called Internet Users and E-Commerce Demographics India 2013. The more I read it, the more I get depressed, but I must share these numbers for a reality check.

India’s population at the end of 2012 was 1.23 billion, up from 1.03 billion in 2010. Internet users in the same period increased from 69.2 million to 116.18 million, which is just 9.6% of the total population.

This translates to only 7.2% household penetration, whereas the total number of households in 2012 was 268 million.

Interestingly, total Internet subscriptions stood at only 19.2 million in 2012. Thus, as India celebrates its premier place in the digital revolution, it is also time for serious introspection. A quarter of the world’s poverty is in India and 26% of the population is illiterate. The eStatsIndia.com report clearly indicates that India is among the world’s lowest in computer and Internet penetration.

However, efforts are now being made in various quarters to bridge this yawning chasm.

The ministry of communication and information technology has launched a number of initiatives to take India beyond software parks. It promises to every panchayat a minimum 10 megabits per second (mbps) broadband optic fibre connection; it has allocated 100 crore to make at least 800,000 people digitally literate and with the help of the private sector and the civil society, make at least one person per household digitally literate.

Yet, for now, we remain at a crawling pace as far as access to the Internet is concerned.

The eStatsIndia.com report predicts that by 2013 India will have 14.8 million mobile Internet buyers.

On the other hand, there will be just 3.6 million pure mobile Internet buyers (PMIBs) by December 2013.

The analysis also shows that the number of Internet users is considerably more sensitive to income than to urbanization.

The digital demographics pretty much affect the choice and business models of a typical digital firm.

Where to expand? Whom to target? What demographics to consider? All of these are key questions that directly affect the business model of a company and its growth.

The report says Internet buyers by 2013 in 53 cities will be 27.28 million. Mobile Internet buyers (MIBs) will be around 18.34 million.

The time for debates and discussions is over. It is time to execute.

The Internet has to move into the core of social, economic and governance systems and processes, and not remain a retrofit. It has to be seen as an element of basic infrastructure and necessity. Internet connection is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th. The sooner we get connectivity to every individual, the better.

Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and curator of the Manthan Award. He is member of the working group for Internet proliferation and governance, ministry of communication and information technology. Follow him on twitter
@osamamanzar.

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