The number of internet users in rural areas of India has surpassed those living in metropolitan cities for the first time, according to a new report that also found women partly responsible for driving the trend along with better connectivity and more affordable price plans.

“Digital in India”, a study conducted by the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and research firm Nielsen, revealed there were 227 million active internet users in rural areas, as of November 2019, compared with about 205 million in cities.

By November last year – and therefore before the lockdown precautions against coronavirus that has forced millions to stay at home – there were 30 million additional new internet users in rural India since March 2019, including a 31% increase among women.

Overall, India now has 504 million active internet users, who are defined as those accessing the internet at least once a month, although nearly 70% of the active internet population in India are daily users, Livemint reported.

Of these, 433 million are aged 12-years and above, while another 71 million are children aged five to 11 who access the internet via devices belonging to their families.

According to The Times of India, it means the number of active internet users increased by 53 million between March and November 2019 and the total makes India the second-largest internet market in the world behind China, which has 850 million users.

Importantly for brands seeking to expand their presence online, there is still plenty of room for growth because internet penetration still stands at just 40% in India, compared with 61% in China and around 88% in the US.

And although time spent on the internet continues to be higher in cities compared with rural India, the report predicted the number of rural users is likely to increase because of better connectivity, quality of service and mobile affordability, spurred on by the growth of female users and non-English language content.

Sourced from IAMAI, Livemint, Times of India; additional content by WARC staff