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By 2025, rural India will likely have more internet users than urban India

Moving at a growth pace over 3x faster than urban India, rural areas will likely force many changes in how internet is accessed and the digital ecosystem at large.

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New Delhi: India’s rural internet user base is growing over three times faster and is quickly catching up to surpass the urban user base, according to a 3 June report released by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and consulting firm Kantar.

“While internet users grew by 4% in urban India reaching 323 million users in 2020, digital adoption continues to be propelled by rural India — registering a 13% growth in internet users over the past year,” the report stated.

The rural internet user base in 2020 was 299 million.

The report estimates India had 622 million active internet users in 2020, when the total population was estimated to be 1,433 million individuals. This means around 43 per cent of the population is an active internet user, defined as someone who had accessed the internet in the previous month.

Nine out of 10 active users accessed the internet on a daily basis, the report stated, and on average, spent around 107 minutes online. Both in rural and urban India, the internet was most frequently used for entertainment, communication, and use of social media, it added.

By 2025, the number of active internet users is expected to be over 900 million.

“At a state level, Maharashtra has the highest penetration of the active internet users followed by Goa and Kerala while Bihar has the lowest penetration,” the report also said.

The study was conducted between June and September 2020, and had 75,000 respondents from over 390 cities/urban locations and 1,300 villages across all states and UTs, except Lakshadweep.

Also read: How Microsoft is bringing broadband to Indian villages

Study findings

Despite the rural internet user base being poised to surpass the urban one, internet penetration in rural India is still lower than in urban areas.

According to the report, the rural population is 948 million, of which only 299 million (about 32 per cent) are active internet users.

In comparison, the urban population is 485 million, of which 323 million (about 67 per cent) are active internet users. Further, urban areas have over double the internet penetration than in rural areas.

While 94 per cent of urban internet users access the internet daily, the figure is 90 per cent in rural India.

The study also found that there are more male internet users than females, in both urban and rural areas. “There are 58% Male Internet users and 42% Female Internet users in India. The ratio of male to female in Urban India is 57:43 and that in Rural India is 58:42,” it stated.

Mobile phones have played a key role in internet usage growth in the country as all active internet users were found to have used the mobile device to access the internet.

2025 could see key changes

Kantar, which carried out the study with IAMAI, noted that there would be a greater number of internet users in rural India than urban by 2025.

“Given this, the digital ecosystem will need to evolve to address the specific needs of this emerging demography,” said Biswapriya Bhattacharjee, Kantar’s executive vice president, insights division

Internet services available in Indian languages, that allow the use of voice and offer video options “will emerge as the game changers for the digital ecosystem over the next few years”, Bhattacharjee added.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Why 5G is unlikely to solve India’s digital connectivity problems


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