- Despite the power shortages that often plague India’s rural areas, the popularity of the Internet there is rapidly growing.
Despite the power shortages that often plague India’s rural areas, the popularity of the Internet there is rapidly growing.
The number of active Internet users in rural areas has grown 29% between December and June, from 24 million to 31 million, according to a study recently released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and market research firm IMRB.
The figures are estimates based on a survey conducted in seven Indian states: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajashthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The report defines active users as those who have used the Internet at least once over the past one month.
The report estimates active users in rural India will reach 38 million by Dec. 2012. That’s around 4.6% of India’s rural population, so there is still plenty of room for improvement.
In urban areas, home to 29% of India’s 1.17 billion population, Internet penetration is a lot higher – 24% of people there are active Internet users, the report found.
For Subho Ray, the president of IAMAI, the reason the number of Internet users in rural areas is rising has to do with “increased awareness of the medium” together with public and private initiatives aimed at promoting Internet use.
The most common way for people in rural areas to access the Internet is in community service centers and cyber cafés. Mobile phones have also become a popular medium, the number of which has grown seven-fold since the beginning of 2010, the report notes.
As phones are getting more affordable – with handsets from local manufacturers such as Micromax and Karbonn costing as little as 3000 rupees ($60)– they have the potential of becoming the most popular way of navigating the Internet in rural areas.
But what are people using the Internet for?
Entertainment, mostly. The report found that as many as 75% of the people surveyed said they went online to play music or view photos.
Next came communication (56% of users) and using the Internet as a way of accessing professional or educational services.
For instance, “e-choupal,” a tool launched by firm ITC Ltd 500875.BY -1.34%., a conglomerate, enables farmers to access information about weather, and other agriculture-related information in their local language to help manage their farm output.
One of the key barriers to the number of Internet users in rural areas surging dramatically is language: few people have sufficiently strong English skills. “And this is holding them back from using internet,” the report notes.
Total active internet users in India as a whole currently stands at 111 million, or 9.5% of the population, and is expected to reach 122 million by the end of the year.