According to this study, when the question “Have you heard of Internet?” was thrown at few people from lower socio-economic class Indian society, around 75% of population responded with a NO. I bet this number would be much smaller when the question asked is about phone/mobile rather than Internet. Internet has been around in India before mobile phones hit the market. What could be the reason for such less awareness of Internet?
I think the answer is clear - 70% of India is still rural and agrarian and given their day to day lifestyle, having Internet access would not add any value to it. The next question then is, whether there really exists any real use case scenarios that rural India cares about. Sam Pitroda made the concept of long distance telephony commonplace with the introduction of PCO’s. In retrospect, its easy to see how the concept made sense. PCO’s created employment and enabled people to communicate in a way like never before. Does there exist a similar “gap” today that Internet can fill? Here are a few notable initiatives that companies are taking:
1. ITC’s eChoupal Initiative: An innovative rural distribution framework that makes use of computers and Internet for procurement of soybeans from rural India. You can read the details in this article over at India Knowledge@Wharton, but it essentially enables the farmers to go to Internet kiosks and check prices and help them make a decision to sell their produce at the local market or directly to ITC. Mukesh Ambani group is planning to setup a similar farm-to-storefront infrastructure to tap into the rural market.
2. Online giant Google also realizes the enormous opportunity in rural India and is planning a number of initiatives to tap into the market by creating customized content including weather updates, crop patterns and other local data.
There are other similar initiatives that different companies are taking. Some of Internet based services (esp. related to weather, crops, jobs, train-tickets, better means of communication, etc.) can be very useful in improving the lives of the rural people. The mode and ease of access is going to be key. Its hard to expect people to have PC’s in the villages. Its hard to expect villagers to understand a complex computer keyboard. Clearly, noticing the ever increasing mobile penetration, providing customized, easy-to-access content on the mobile platform seems like the way to go. But of course, figuring out the business model could be tricky. What do you think? How much can people in rural India really benefit from such services? Does there exist economically viable models (both for villagers as well as the Internet entrepreneurs/companies) that can add value in the life of a common villager?
Entry Filed under: infrastructure