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DIGITAL | Overview: Internet use expands, but growth rate levels

Greatest potential remains in rural areas


Internet use in India continues to grow, but the growth rate is leveling, particularly in urban centers where penetration has reached 60 percent, compared with only 17 percent in rural areas. Rural internet penetration has grown more rapidly than urban penetration, expanding at an annual rate of 22 percent, compared with 7 percent in urban areas, between October 2015 and 2016.


These conclusions are contained in Internet in India 2016, a report published by Kantar IMRB with the Internet and Mobile Association of India. Overall Internet penetration in India reached 31 percent, with 432 million users as of December 2016, according to the report. The impact of demonetization was expected to accelerate growth, the report said, estimating that total Indian internet users would reach 450 to 465 million during the first half of 2017.


These numbers are forecasts based on extensive research of urban and rural Indians who claimed they used the internet at some time. The numbers are indicative of digitization trends, but they do not represent active internet users, people who accessed the internet within the last 30 days. Kantar IMRB will release those numbers in fall 2017. In addition:


-               Of an estimated urban population of 444 million people, around 269 million people already use the internet;


-               In rural India, with an estimated population of 906 million people, only 163 million people use the internet; consequently,


-               Rural India contains a potential 750 million more internet users.


Urban and rural Indians access the internet with similar frequency. Just over half of urban internet users, and just under half of rural internet users, access the internet daily. Around 90 percent of urban users and 83 percent of rural users access the internet once a month.


Indian urban and rural internet users access the internet primarily for the same three reasons, but with differing priorities. Communication, the No. 1 reason why urban Indians use the internet, is the No. 3 reason for rural Indians. Conversely, entertainment, the No. 3 reason for the urban internet users is the No. 1 reason for the rural users. For both groups, social networking is the second most important reason for internet use.


Infrastructure differences in part drive the differences in use. In general, urban Indians are always connected. Rural Indians connect selectively, because of less dependable service and to save money. Infrastructure improvements and wider use of digital devices for purposes other than entertainment should accelerate the growth of internet use.


The profile of urban and rural daily internet users is similar. In both instances about a quarter were young men and another quarter are college students. By gender, daily internet users are 60 percent male in urban India and 75 percent male in rural India. The larger presence of women on the internet in urban India results in part because urban women not in the workforce were more likely to use the internet than rural women in similar circumstances.


Most Indians, both urban (77 percent) and rural (92 percent) access the internet the same way—with a mobile device. Among both urban and rural Indians who do not currently use the internet, few indicated that they would in the future. Low awareness of the benefits of the internet was the primary factor behind this low interest. People aware of the internet, but reluctant to use it, cited lack of need.