Well its an often repeated discussion that I have had the good (and sometimes bad) fortune of attending across various panel discussions around the growth of the internet. So it wasn’t surprising when the same discussion cropped up during the recent IAMAI Digital Summit.
There was a contradiction of views wherein Mr.R Sundar of Times Business Solutions felt that regional content was necessary for the internet to grow as the english newspapers only reached out to 22 million people and a large part of the country read content in hindi and several other languages. Murugavel of Bharat Matrimony felt that regional language centric sites did not help as the keyboards were in english and people will not type in regional language.
While this debate happened there was a statement made by Ajit Balakrishnan in another panel wherein he said “When BSNL goes to sell broadband in tier 2 cities, consumers ask ‘what’ll we do with it.’” This points to a lack of use case for the internet which inturn would point towards the lack of useful content and applications to the diverse audience that consists of the Indian population.
So the question this raises is that lets assume access is available and access is cheap would that alone lead to adoption?
My take on this is that concurrent investment is required. Investment in both cheap broadband and concurrently investmentment in both local and regional content and applications that have relevance and Indian use case.
Google seems to be doing this in a different way by taking buses to remote areas to help people from the hinterland experience the internet and its usage first hand. We had covered Google’s Bus initiative which travels in the interiors of India and makes users experience the internet first hand. I believe these are the the baby steps towards gaining traction for the internet from interiors of India. Besides this I feel investment in content companies and application companies that focus on local problems needs to come in,
Check the pics below which I took of the Internet Bus and its interiors at TEDIndia.
The bus from outside
Wikipedia in Indian languages
Google maps of Indian locations