The use of internet may be an urban phenomenon, but only 27 per cent of India’s urban population admits to have accessed the medium at some point in time. The number of those accessing the worldwide web routinely is just a tiny fraction – 7 per cent – 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 largescale 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 per cent, 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 per cent, 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 cyber cafes. 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 per cent have accessed 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 per cent in 2000 to 36 per cent in 2009, internet is surely making an impact on the lives of people in smaller towns, who are using the online medium for connecting with people, socialising, 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 per cent – of internet users, followed by men in the 21-35 years age group (28 per cent). Women form a very small part of the internet population in the country, with working and non-working women accounting for only 8 per cent and 7 per cent of the internet users’ universe.

Cyber cafes continue to be the main source of accessing internet for 37 per cent users, followed by 30 per cent who access it from their offices and 23 per cent from homes. An interesting highlight of 2009 was the emergence of a segment (4 per cent) that uses mobile phones to access internet. “With the fast-growing smart phone market in India, mobile phones may emerge as a dominant source of accessing 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 socialising through sites such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly getting popular among netizens. Only 16 per cent 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