3.3 million is not a small figure by any means. This is the number of Internet users in rural India as on March 2008, according to the I-Cube 2008 report jointly undertaken by IAMAI and IMRB International.
According to Akamai’s third quarter State of the Internet Report found, most of the new connectivity globally came from growth through undersea cables, WiMAX, and satellite. All these three trends and particularly WiMax, points to a tremendous opportunity to rural India.
While Internet service providers and related players are looking to tap this growing market, there are several hurdles in the way. exchange4media speaks with some digital players to map the road ahead.
Bruno Goveas, Head - Marketing and Product Management, Akamai India, said, “We also observed that Internet connectivity in India in terms of observed unique IP addresses grew by 23 per cent quarter-over-quarter in Q3. A good percentage of the growth is coming from places out of the top metros. Now that we have the technologies like mobile and WiMax, which have the potential of reducing the urban versus rural divide in Internet connectivity, I cannot think about a better time for Internet players to take rural penetration more seriously.”
Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder and Vice President - Business Development, Interactive Avenues, noted, “Internet in India is still considered a niche medium and brand advertising will happen in large numbers only when it becomes mass. If this medium gets about 100 million users, only then can it be called a mass medium. Currently, it is only half this number and it is important for the medium to touch the 100-million mark, only then will more brands get more involved.”
Amar Goel, CEO, Komli Media, observed, “For Internet to go deeper in rural India, it is important that the cost of computing comes down, thus making access to PC cheaper. The infrastructure should be in place. One big drawback is that the penetration of broadband is too low in India for widespread Internet access.”
Neeraj Kumar, ITS, BSNL, felt that the time was ripe for Internet to make a deeper penetration in rural India. According to him, what was required was e-governance service. “Government services should be available more on the Internet,” he added.
Harminder Kaur, Chief Strategy Officer, Ignitee, observed, “Digital penetration in the rural market is abysmally low at this point, 3.3 million active users (I-Cube 2008) for a population of 578 million – that is 0.57 per cent penetration. The key reasons that are responsible for this are lack of infrastructure, unaffordable prices and lack of customised content.”
He further said, “To counter the above, the Government will need to provide better infrastructure in terms of more telephone lines, etc., make mobile, PC and Internet accessible at more affordable prices, offer price incentives or easy finance schemes for the buyers and so on. The digital industry at its end will need to focus on customised content development to ensure practical usage and benefit to the rural program. This would include vernacular search engines and websites at one end and software like education programs, employment training, etc., at the other.”
The Road Ahead
Goveas pointed out, “I believe the key is educating the rural market on the power of the Internet. Mobile has taken off well because rural Indians understood the power of communication and how it can change relationships and business. People understood the need clearly with mobiles.”
“We need to educate people by emphasising that Internet fulfills their entertainment, information, communication needs, while ensuring a better life for the community around. Also, we believe there is a significant need for developing simple interfaces and content in regional languages to create a strong need for people in rural India to access content,” he added.
Kaur observed, “The Government and the digital industry should also partner with private players to raise funds and develop new initiatives (for instance e-choupal or the student learning program by Intel) to further the usage and penetration of the digital medium in the rural areas. Higher penetration of the digital medium in these areas would not only mean a much more empowered India, but also a lesser level, a great tool to broaden the communication and interaction touch points of this audience.”
Kumar of BSNL said, “A deeper penetration of Internet in rural India would mean more business, it will bring more efficiency in the country and above all it will further strengthen the Indian economy.”
So, is mobile Internet the answer to taking Internet to the rural India? One needs to wait and watch the infrastructure development brought in by the new Government that comes into power after the Lok Sabha elections slated for April-May 2009.
There are 3.3 million active Internet users in rural India: I-Cube 2008 report