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Times of India
By Harsimran Julka
New Delhi

Internet Community Grows 42%, Spurred By Cheaper Devices & Affordable Broadband Plans
71 Million Indians Caught in the Web 71 Million Indians Caught in the Web
INDIA’S internet community grew by a spectacular 42% in 2009 from a year ago, spurred by a rash of cheaper devices and affordable broadband plans that helped sidestep snags such as buttoned-up PC sales and a shrinking spread of cyber cafes.

The country’s total number of internet users grew to 71 million last year, according to an annual survey by market research agency IMRB and Internet and Mobile Association of India, available exclusively with ET. The survey has traced users who have used the internet at some point in time, an indication of the number of Indians who have gone online at least once in their lifetime.

Four out of five computer users and English-speaking persons in urban India are now hooked to the Web, said the survey that was conducted among 19,000 households, 68,000 individuals and 500 cyber cafes. “The growth came from reduced prices of cheap access devices like netbooks that are now available at around Rs 20,000,” says Internet and Mobile Association of India president Subho Ray.

Companies such as Dell, HP, Acer, HCL and Lenovo have all launched netbook models in India in the recent past. Gartner estimates that nearly 325,000 units will be sold in India this year. Indeed, the burst of such devices in the market couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, given that the customary contributors of internet growth in India were beset with their own problems. PC sales, after years of giddy growth, were almost flat at 73 lakh units in India in 2009-10 from a year ago. And the country’s number of cyber cafes dropped from 235,000 in 2006 to 180,000 in 2009, according to Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI).

At least 37% of computer users still reply on cyber cafes to use the internet. Growing awareness about the benefits of internet usage and critical applications such as job search gradually shifting to online portals also helped in the rise in the number of users.

The study also says India’s active user base – comprising people who access the internet at least once a month – grew by 18% to 51 million from a year earlier.

However, the survey also offers salient data that are a counter against getting carried away by the other glowing trends. The number of users who possess an internet connection remains starkingly low at 14.6 million. Also, internet penetration is still measly compared to that of countries such as the US. China has over 360 million internet users followed by US at 227 million and Japan at 95 million.

Similarly, internet additions continued to be eclipsed by mobile subscriber additions that were ticking at 10 million a month last year. Users who access internet via mobile phones remains a meagre 2 million due to slow download speeds. Here, users who access online WAP portals pre-burnt into SIM cards are counted out in the survey.

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