The Slow Progress of Broadband in India

25 June 2008

MUMBAI: India is facing the prospect of failing to achieve broadband access targets. It currently has just 4 million fast web connections, well shy of the 10m the government is aiming for by 2010.

The reasons why broadband penetration has stalled in the sub-continent are not difficult to discover: a dearth of PCs; lack of relevant computer services for the general population; poor infrastructure; a multitude of local Indian languages; and problems establishing last-mile internet connections.

The lack of PCs in the home – just three percent of households have one - is the biggest problem, according to David Appasamy, spokesman for Indian internet service provider Sify.

He says: "India is supposed to be the IT superpower of the world, but we have an abysmally low penetration of PCs at home. It's got to turn around."

Although cellphones have gripped the nation's consumers, most of them do not see the relevance of computers to their lives, especially the near 70% of citizens who live in rural areas.

And it is here that 'last mile' connectivity is a difficult hurdle to overcome. Government policy does not allow internet service providers to share the cost of delivering the final leg of connectivity from a communications provider to a customer with telephone companies.

Web businesses are, nevertheless, persevering with their expansion into India, especially as cellphones and the internet increasingly converge.

Declares Shailesh Rao, managing director of Google India: "We are very focused on India as a strategic market. The vibrant video community will only grow.

"If Google and YouTube don't establish themselves now, they won't be in position to compete in the future."

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff