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Indian Internet's content, connectivity conundrum

What will make more people adopt Internet in the country?

Surabhi Agarwal  |  New Delhi 

Just a few years ago, any technology industry gathering was incomplete without some discussion on: What will make more people adopt Internet in the country?

The answer lied in cheaper devices that time. Laptops and desktops were the only means to surf the Internet for the majority. And getting a Rs.5,000 smartphone which could email, Facebook and Google for you was above human imagination then.

But, how would cheaper devices come about? Well, when more people hop onto the Internet, manufacturers would find enough volumes to drive down prices. And when would more people hop onto the Internet? When will the devices become cheaper. The classic Chicken and Egg situation. And so it continued for a while.

Promises of a $100 computer, even a $10 device were common. Such devices came and flopped. India’s Internet population remained dismal.

Then came the netbooks, a low-cost stripped down version of the laptop which was affordable. It was the industry’s answer to taking computing to the masses. That too failed. Why? Content in local Indian languages and ample Internet connectivity were not there.

But, how will the issue of content and connectivity get solved? When the Internet population grows, content creators would create more applications and content to keep users busy. Infrastructure providers would also find incentive in putting nooks and crannies of the country on the Internet grid. So, when would more people join the Internet? When there is more content and ample connectivity. Chicken and Egg, again.

A few years ago, a smartphone revolution started unfolding in India. It catapulted the country among the top three countries in terms of Internet users. We are only behind China and the US now. India has almost 200 million Internet users currently, half of which are mobile Internet users. Every new Internet users is coming through the mobile.

On the face of it, the India’s Internet eco-system looks really optimistic. But, is it?

Despite the jump in numbers, the connectivity and content problem seems far. It was evident in two Internet centric events held this week. One was to announce the launch of an Indian Language Internet Alliance, where Google has brought together stakeholders to generate more content in local Indian languages. It believes that only 40 per cent of Indian’s are well versed in English and if the next set of users have to be brought on board then applications and content has to be in the language of their comfort. Target is to add 300 million Indians to the World Wide Web over the next three years.

And the second one was aimed at comparing India’s Internet economy with that of China. As was the all-round view, India is currently not even a patch on the Dragon country. Their usage of the Internet and therefore the revenue generated by advertising or sales is in tens of multiples of what India currently boasts off.

How do we catch up? Better connectivity will ensure that more Indians get on the grid and do more on the Internet. It will ensure videos buffer quickly and payments don’t drop. But in areas where there is good connectivity, usage continues to be low. Why? Perhaps first the local content and applications need to be there. How can that problem be fixed. Maybe monetisation avenues around local content need to be figured out first.

And the Chicken and Egg never ends. It seems.

The solution maybe lies in not waiting for the other to happen but to tackle all these issues together at the same time, with a great sense of urgency. Monetisation and sound revenue models have to be also kept in mind. Else, monetisation will soon become an alibi for all things that went wrong with the Indian Internet.

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First Published: Thu, November 06 2014. 20:33 IST
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