The number of Internet subscribers as reported by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for the last three years was 16.18 million (2009-10), 19.67 million (2010-11) and 22.86 million (2011-12), Minister for Communications and IT Kapil Sibal said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
The government had set the target of achieving 6 million, 18 million and 40 million Internet users for the years 2005, 2007 and 2010 respectively, under the Broadband Policy 2004, the minister said.
The number of wireline Internet users stood at 6.7 million (2005), 10.36 million (2007) and 18.69 million (2010).
The policy had set the target for broadband users at 3 million, 9 million and 20 million for 2005, 2007 and 2010. The actual numbers stood at 0.90 million (2005), 3.13 million (2007) and 10.99 million (2010).
An Internet connection with a speed of 256 kbps and higher is categorised as broadband as per the policy.
Sibal said the main impediments hindering the growth of Internet and broadband in the country include "lack of interest in private operators, for broadband expansion in rural areas, being non-remunerative".
Difficulty in laying optical fibre cable (OFC) network due to the issues related to right of way clearances and high cost of right of way charges, he said.
Other obstacles, Sibal said, are high back haul cost, low PC penetration, high cost of customer premises equipment, low literacy levels, lack of local content and poor power supply.
On government's plans to provide Internet facility at cheaper rates, he said the government has approved a scheme for creation of a National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) to provide broadband connectivity to 247,864 village panchayats.
The project will be funded by USOF and initial estimated cost of project is Rs 20,000 crore. The project is proposed to be completed in 2 years.
NOFN project is being executed by a Special Purpose Vehicle - Bharat Broadband Network Ltd, a company incorporated on February 25, 2012, under Indian Companies Act 1956. It is fully owned by central government, with equity participation from the government, BSNL, Railtel and Powergrid.
Replying to another query in Rajya Sabha, Sibal said, "On completion of the NOFN project, non-discriminatory access to the network will be provided to all the categories of ISPs."
"These access providers/service providers like mobile operators, ISPs, cable TV operators, content providers can launch various services in rural areas. Various applications for e-health, e-education, e-governance etc will be provided," he added.