Internet penetration in the country may not have crossed 16% of the population yet, but in absolute numbers this percentage works out to nearly 10 times the population of Australia.
By October, the nation had crossed the 200 million mark, says a report released by the Internet And Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB. The report estimates 243 million internet users in the country by June 2014, overtaking the US as the world’s second largest internet base after China.
The US today has an estimated 207 million internet users, while China has 300 million. The 205 million internet users that the IAMAI reports for India are not all active users, or those who use the internet at least once a month.
“There is every reason to believe that they will turn into active users in the near future,” IMAI associate vice-president Nilotpal Chakravarti said.
While Indians primarily use the internet for communication, largely in the form of email, social media is also an important driver of internet use here.
This facet of the IAMAI report can be corroborated with data from other sources such as Facebook, according to which India had 82 million monthly active users by June 30, the second largest geographical region for Facebook after the US and Canada. Facebook does not operate in China.
Penetration in the country is driven largely by mobile phones, with some of the cheapest and most basic handsets today offering access to the internet. The country has 110 million mobile internet users, of which 25 million are in rural parts.
The contribution of mobiles to internet penetration in rural parts is especially significant, with 70% of the active internet population in non-urban areas accessing the web via cellphones; this may have to do with the difficulty in accessing PCs.
It was found that 42% of rural internet users preferred local languages. The high prevalence of content in English is a hurdle for most of them.
College-goers remained the largest users of the internet in the country, followed by young men.
While the IMAI report paints an optimistic picture, a report by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development ranked India 145th in around 200 countries for the percentage of individuals using the internet.
But IMAI associate vice president Chakravarti said India’s performance when it came to internet penetration was an achievement given the country’s current infrastructure.