ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Net Spreads Wide

What consequences of the rapidly growing number of internet users in India?

For many years now, the spectacular growth of India’s information technology and business process outsourcing sectors has been driven almost entirely by foreign markets and customers across many time zones. They were, despite their double-digit growth claims, often criticised for being islands of the networked North in the digital darkness of the subcontinent. At the turn of the century, India had less than 10 million people connected to the world wide web; over the first decade of the 21st century it grew ten times to reach a hundred million. In less than three years since, the number of internet users in India has doubled and before this year is out, India will have the highest number in the world, after China.

It may well be that we are at the same point with regard to the internet, as we were with the mobile phone a decade back. In 2003 India’s mobile user base had just crossed the 10 million mark and the most optimistic projections suggested that there would be a 100 million mobile phone users by 2010. The actual number by that year was close to 800 million. For long the spectre of a debilitating digital divide had been the bane with India’s internet use limited to those with the incomes and skills to access computers costing tens of thousands of rupees. The government had often spoken about rolling out internet services and connecting villages and urban areas with high speed broadband. The ambitious plan of linking 2,50,000 of India’s villages with an optic fibre cable network remains largely unaccomplished. The broadband policy remains in tatters with broadband still defined at 512 kilobits per second (kbps) despite a decision taken last year to base it at four times that. Even in the largest of metropolitan centres in India, actual speed that users get is often abysmally low.

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