Despite so much noise around the "Digital India" initiative, the urban-rural divide is actually more acute than it appears when it comes to Internet penetration across the country, a new report said on Tuesday. While Internet penetration in urban India was at 64.84 per cent in December 2017 compared to 60.6 per cent in December 2016, the rural Internet penetration has grown only a little -- from 18 per cent in 2016 to 20.26 per cent in December 2017.
"Even through the growth rate in rural India may seem higher, it is mainly due to low-base effect, given total Internet users in rural India are still critically low," said the report titled "Internet in India 2017" released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and market research firm IMRB Kantar.
An estimated 182.9 million urban users access Internet daily as compared to 98 million users in rural India.
Almost double the proportion of rural users access Internet less than a month in rural India as compared to urban India.
"The number of Internet users are growing in rural areas, yet the bridge between urban and rural is vast. There are potential 732 million new Internet users in rural India," Subho Ray, President, IAMAI, told IANS.
"The bridge can be divided if adequate infrastructure is put in place, and the last-mile connectivity is improved. Putting in place adequate infrastructure is essential to have deeper Internet penetration in rural areas," he added.
According to the report, the skewedness of the Internet is further proven by the fact that the top nine cities account for 35 per cent of all urban Internet users.
The smaller metros and non-metros have Internet penetration levels lower than the national average for rural India, the report added.
India currently has an estimated 481 million users -- a growth of 11.34 per cent over December 2016.
It is estimated that India will have around 500 million users by June 2018, the report noted.
The Internet usage pattern across the country is closely related to connectivity, quality of service, affordability and several such factors.
In urban India, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are the top three cities that have the highest penetration, while Fatehpur, Jagdalpur and Imphal are on the bottom among the list of over 170 cities covered under the survey.
Urban India has witnessed a growth of 9.66 per cent from December 2016 and is currently estimated to have around 295 million users by December 2017.
Rural India witnessed a growth of 14.11 per cent from December 2016 and is estimated to have around 186 million Internet users by December 2017.
"Online communication remained the top activity among urban India Internet users whereas in rural India, entertainment is observed to be the most common purpose for accessing the Internet," the report said.
Internet user market is still a male preserve in India, the report observed.
"There are estimated 143 million female Internet users overall, which is approximately 30 per cent of total Internet users," it added.