Urban India took to the Internet, like a mouse drawn to cheese, and the steady hunger for more cheese, or in this matter; better, faster, Internet is now on the path to complete its S-curve, as it reaches a saturation point. Most Indians would not consider 60% penetration as saturation, but when compared to 17% penetration in rural India, it is but obvious to both the Government and Internet Service Providers, that the next spurt in growth for the sector will take place as Internet usage grows in the by-lanes of rural India.
A TRAI Consultation Paper titled ‘Proliferation of Broadband through Public Wi-Fi Networks’, states that “The growth of Internet penetration in India and realization of its full potential is closely tied to the proliferation of broadband services. “Broadband” is currently defined to mean a data connection that is able to support interactive services, including Internet access, with the capability of a minimum download speed of 512 kbps. It, therefore, refers to a means of delivering high-speed Internet access services.”
High-speed Internet access services are required in the form of rural broadband plans, for a growth spurt to meet the demands of the Digital movement the Government is pushing for. The spurt is already taking place as per a joint report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and Indian Market Research Bureau. The figures in the report clearly state that 163 of the 432 million Indians who use the Internet are based in rural areas. The numbers show that the scope of growth is tremendous and the government is rightly pushing the industry to grow with broadband sector.
The report studies the usage pattern and finds that youth were the highest users, with females comprising only 25% of the users. This youth is always on the lookout for the best ISP to satiate their hunger for entertainment. The rural population, as per the report, uses their broadband connection mostly to be entertained, unlike their urban counterparts who use it to communicate, shop or get access to travel amenities such as ticketing. The need to inform and educate the people living in the rural areas on how to best use ISPs can further attribute to the growth.
All facets of the rural lifestyle including agriculture, healthcare, artisans, can benefit from uninterrupted broadband connections. It is easy to get lost in the world of Internet and be rightly afraid of being duped or taken for a ride. However, engaging the rural audience with the immense benefits that the Internet at a home or shop offers is something providers such as Airtel can undertake. Informing them on the security protocols, benefits of online forums to get the latest information, using social media to stay connected with family in distant lands, can accelerate the adoption.
Though the scope of broadband penetration in the rural areas is high, the need of the hour is not limited to the provision of the best connections. The need also includes educating the population on the benefits of the use and building in them a trust towards the use of Internet for their banking, shopping, and other needs. The growth opportunities are immense, and as the report clearly states there are ‘750 potential million users’ waiting to become global citizens.