Towns beat metros on the worldwide web

The use of the internet may be an urban phenomenon, but only 27 percent of India's urban population admits to having accessed the medium at some point in time. The number of those accessing the world wide web routinely is just a tiny fraction - 7 percent - of the total urban population. And, if the numbers are rising fast, it is the smaller towns that are showing the way, with the likes of Kolhapur, Bellary, Thrissur, and Panipat having more internet users than the top eight metros put together.


A large-scale annual study on internet usage patterns across urban India, conducted by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), has revealed that of the 71 million "claimed" internet users in the country, 36 percent, or around 26 million, are from towns with less than five lakh population. On the other hand, the top eight metros - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad - account for 34 percent, or 24 million, of the total Net users.


Cities with more than 10 lakh population, like Patna, Kochi, Baroda, Ludhiana, Coimbatore, Nagpur, and Surat, house around 13 million internet users, says the study by IAMAI, the industry body that tracks internet and usage patterns in the country.


"Claimed" internet users are those who claim to have accessed the medium at least once at some point in time. "Active" users, pegged at 52 million, are those who access the medium at least once a month. The smaller towns are also contributing to the growing population of computer-literates in the country. According to the study, 95 million people in urban India today have access to personal computers as compared to the 16 million in 2000.


"The PC penetration in the country, in fact, is driven by smaller towns and this is also leading to a decline in access of internet through cyber cafes, although they continue to dominate as the avenues of access for a majority of users," said Subho Ray, president, IAMAI. The study was conducted across 31 cities in the country, among 19,000 households, 68,000 individuals, 1,000 small and medium enterprises, and 500 cybercafes.


The data indicates trends till September 2009. The report pegs the country's urban population above 12 years of age at 266 million, which means that only 27 percent have accessed the internet at least once in their lifetime, while only around 20 million people access the Web on a daily basis. While admitting that internet penetration continues to be extremely low even in urban India, the study says it has consistently grown in the past decade.


"From 5 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2009, the internet is surely making an impact on the lives of people in smaller towns, who are using the online medium for connecting with people, socializing, entertainment and also, accessing news," said Ray. In terms of demographics, school and college students in the age group of 8-25 years comprise the largest chunk - 44 percent - of internet users, followed by men in the 21-35 years age group (28 percent). Women form a very small part of the internet population in the country, with working and non-working women accounting for only 8 percent and 7 percent of the internet users' universe.


Cybercafes continue to be the main source of accessing the internet for 37 percent of users, followed by 30 percent who access it from their offices and 23 percent from homes. An interesting highlight of 2009 was the emergence of a segment (4 percent) that uses mobile phones to access the internet. "With the fast-growing smartphone market in India, mobile phones may emerge as a dominant source of accessing the internet for users in the near future," said Ray.


While accessing e-mails continues to be the main purpose of going online for most users, music and video downloads and socializing through sites such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly getting popular among netizens. Only 16 percent of claimed users choose the online medium to access news. The report further says that average internet usage in the country has gone up from 5.6 hours per week in 2001 to 15.7 hours per week in 2009.


Source : " The Indian Express" 05 April 2010