Internet penetration in India is reaching more regions than before, yet there remains an acute urban-rural divide. There will be as many as 500 million internet users in the country by June 2018, yet women constitute a meager 30 percent of the growth. As per the latest data, even if Digital India is the talk of the town and the country is eager to hop on the 5G brigade, the gender divide in digital literacy and internet adoption is alarming.
As per the latest Internet in India 2017 report released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and market research firm IMRB Kantar, out of an estimated urban population of 455 million, 295 million use internet. In comparison, out of 918 million estimated rural population, there are 186 million users who use the internet. In total, there are 481 million total internet users in India (as on December 2017), registering a hike of 11.34 percent from December 2016, ET reports.
Based on these numbers, there has been a significant increase in the number of rural internet users. In fact, the rate of growth has been recorded as higher than the urban users. This is primarily attributed to the low-cost data plans and affordable smartphones. However, these numbers do not actually paint a rosy picture.
As the report states,”The growth rate of rural India may seem higher, it is mainly due to the low base effect, given that overall internet users in rural India are still critically low. Given that total urban population is much lower than total rural population, the urban-rural digital divide is actually more acute than what the penetration numbers portray.”
Now coming to the gender ratio, akin to the population of the country, there is a huge divide when it comes to male and female internet users. In India, there are a total of 143 million internet users who are female, this translates to just 30 percent of the total number of 481 million. While these statistics are disappointing, as per the report, the number of female internet users have increased when compared to last year. Urban India witnessed a growth of 9.66 percent in female internet users while in rural India, the growth is recorded at 14.11 percent.
While these numbers indicate impressive overall growth, there still remains the digital gender gap. A variety of factors contribute to this divide. Right from the lack of education and awareness, to affordability, women in rural India are less likely to adopt internet as a means of communication or self-education as compared to women in the urban sector. “While ‘Digital India‘ is paving its way in rural India, the underlining digital gender gap still persists. Digital literacy is, therefore, a key to ensure everyone stays informed, engaged and safe online. Further, amongst rural internet users, the ratio between male to female Internet users is 64:36,” the report notes.
On the one hand internet in the country is getting more affordable and so are smartphones. As per the report, 86 percent of internet users use smartphones to access the internet in urban India, while 87 percent do so in rural India. But on the other hand, India ranks the lowest in 4G speed as compared to rest of the world. A recent OpenSignal report found that India has an average 4G speed of 6.07Mbps. In comparison, Singapore has the highest speed of 44.31Mbps. In terms of availability of 4G signals, India ranks at number 14 (down from eleventh in November 2017) with an increased 86.26 percent coverage of 4G.