In charts: The paradoxes of India’s internet boom

The internet in India is a tangle of contradictions. The country boasts of the largest number of people connected to the internet, enjoying some of the most affordable tariffs in the world, in what is increasingly the most important market for social media companies. But alongside these strides, authorities also use internet shutdowns frequently as a law-and-order tool in an era when being disconnected can disrupt regular life. Social media firms claim government interference on content. Digital literacy is not as widespread as the online penetration rate might suggest. Mint navigates the ironies of India’s internet economy:

Buff…er…ing no more

India’s internet growth has been rapid in recent years, lifted by cheap tariffs. It had an estimated 759 million active internet users as of 2022, for the first time comprising a majority of the population, according to a report by Kantar and Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). A major gainer is the financial technology sector: UPI alone recorded 9.3 billion transactions worth 14.6 trillion in June 2023. However, the internet penetration lags the world average (63%), World Bank data shows.

Digital curfews

Meanwhile, India has found an able ally in internet shutdowns to control law and order in times of unrest. Authorities find it an apt tool to stem violence, given frequent instances of viral fake news leading to tensions. But by global standards, internet shutdowns are way too common in India, data shows—a fact that human rights groups decry. Last year, India saw 45% of all shutdowns globally. India’s repeated attempts to ask for social media content to be censored has also raised concerns. Over the last three years, India has been among the top five countries sending such demands to Twitter (now X).

Internet in chains

Such restrictions and shutdowns have impacted the overall freedom to access the internet in the country. According to Freedom House’s 2022 Freedom on the Net report, the internet in India is only “partly free”. The report, which measures the freedom to access the internet across 70 countries, placed India at the 55th position with a score of 51 out of 100.

Getting up to speed

Despite the politics, India’s infrastructural wins are an inspiration for the developing world. Technology has improved welfare and government outreach. But inferior speeds and poor digital literacy impede much of these gains. India is 55th on mobile internet speeds and 83rd in terms of broadband speeds. The adoption of the next generation of mobile technology is expected to pick pace only by the end of this decade. Expect the economy to get a boost as that happens—and as more Indians learn to use digital tools.


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