The growing internet population in the country has spawned a new economic engine in India. However the big question is how can the country leapfrog from the current 350 million internet users to a billion netizens. This was the point of debate at the Nasscom India Leadership Forum in Mumbai last week, with the the topic being ‘Getting the next billion users online’.
Rajan Anandan, vice-president & managing director of Google, South East Asia & India, was of the opinion that the current set of technologies was very unlikely to take the country to its next billion users. “This requires different types of technologies as at the current one may take India to 500-600 million internet users
only,” he said.
Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, on the other hand, while
debating on the theme said that the current Indian telecom operators have not looked at connecting everybody in the country. The current business model of the telecom operators does not allow them to look at the possibility of connecting every Indian. There is also the common perception that internet
data plans are the cheapest in the world. However, it must be noted that the cost of data per user is much higher when compared to the US. Sharma said, “Even at the current price points, it is expensive.”
To this point Rajan added that it is not just the price which is important but also the quality. “That’s an important parameter too,” he said. The moot point was that if telecom operators built their business on the volume of voice calls, the same could be done even with data. Today, the use of data has been largely centred around messaging, information and videos. There is also the point of how the next billion users will be using the internet. Anandan said that Google is
already engaged in projects which takes internet connectivity to the rural areas. “What is important is how the new internet users can use it to change their lives.”
These can range from topics like healthcare, education and even to the various government programmes. As the internet population expands, it is also important to get the right device to access the web. As Sharma put it “battery life of the phone will be critical.” The current price of smart phones will also act as a deterrent.
“The government has the obligation to provide internet connection to everybody. This should be a basic right just like roads,” said Sharma.
He further said that expanded internet connectivity can really help in expanding the country’s economic agenda.
Anandan felt that the government should get its policy right in terms of a correct balance between economic imperatives and business requirements. What could really add to the expanded internet connectivity is the national fibre optic network, he said.