While many of India’s users access the internet via cybercafes, the share of urbanite users with home connections has increased to 53 percent, according to one survey.11 This shift has been driven in part by greater and cheaper access to broadband service. For example, the state-owned ISP Mahanagar Nigam Telephone Limited (MTNL) provides entry-level DSL access at US$1 per month, and US$2 to US$5 per gigabyte for limitedusage plans.12 Per capita income in India for the 2009–10 fiscal year was estimated at US$930.There is a pronounced urban-rural divide, with an approximate rural user base of just 6.46 million, and only 4.18 million active users. This represents a tiny fraction of the total rural population of about 800 million,14 and indicates that there are approximately 10 times more urban internet users than rural internet users in India. While cost is an obstacle, surveys indicate that lack of electricity and especially low computer literacy and awareness of the internet are more significant.15 Low literacy rates, particularly in English, are also a major impediment. The availability of internet content in India’s eight most widely spoken languages is growing, but remains poor. In August 2010, the U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved a proposal by the Department of Information Technology to allow domain names in Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, and Gujarati.16 In addition, the U.S.-based software and internet giants Microsoft and Google have launched initiatives to incorporate Indian languages into their programs and services.Broadband penetration is very limited at 0.74 percent, particularly when compared with an overall teledensity rate of 52.74 percent.18 According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), as of March 2010 there were 8.7 million broadband connections in the country, an increase from 6.2 million a year earlier, and comprising over half of the Ivinder Gill, “A Wider Net,” Indian Express, August 13, 2010, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/a-wider-net/659494/0;
Juxt, India Online Landscape 2010.
Marcos Aguiar and others, The Internet’s New Billion: Digital Consumers in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Indonesia (Boston: Boston Consulting Group, September 2010), 17, http://www.bcg.com/documents/file58645.pdf.
“Average Income of Indians to Rise to Rs 43,749 This Fiscal,” Times of India, February 8, 2010, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Average-income-of-Indians-to-rise-to-Rs-43749-thisfiscal/articleshow/5548821.cms.
Press Information Bureau of India, “Rural Development,” http://pib.nic.in/archieve/others/fsrurald.pdf.
IAMAI, “84% of Rural India Not Aware of Internet,” news release, September 13, 2010, http://www.iamai.in/PRelease_Detail.aspxnid=2159&NMonth=9&NYear=2010.
Surabhi Agarwal and Shauvik Ghosh, “Domain Names in Regional Languages Soon,” Livemint.com, August 17, 2010, http://www.livemint.com/2010/08/17220818/Domain-names-in-regional-langu.html#.
Ishani Duttagupta and Ravi Teja Sharma, “Google, Microsoft Focus on Regional Languages,” Economic Times, August 2, 2010, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/infotech/internet/Google-Microsoft-focus-on-regionallanguages/articleshow/6242139.cms.
“TRAI Concerned About Low Broadband Penetration,” Cyber Media, June 10, 2010, http://www.ciol.com/News/News/News-Reports/TRAI-concerned-about-low-broadband-penetration/137492/0/.
INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net internet subscriptions in the country.19 In 2004, the government launched a Broadband Policy with the aim of reaching 20 million broadband subscribers by 2010. Having fallen short of this target, in June 2010 the TRAI initiated a consultation process to develop an improved national broadband policy.Meanwhile, the government and private companies are working to expand India’s conduits to the international internet and build up the broadband infrastructure. The government is planning to roll out a network of 500,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cable to provide villages with high-speed connections, in some cases linking smaller existing networks.21 India is connected to the international internet through a number of submarine cables, and the private firm Pacnet plans to invest US$150 million to extend a cable to the city of Chennai in the southeast. As a result, after 2012 the supply of international bandwidth available to Indians is expected to vastly increase, which would likely lead to lower end-user prices.India’s overall mobile-phone penetration figures are promising, with almost percent of the population using mobile phones. The TRAI cited the total mobile subscriber base as almost 730 million by December 2010,23 more than double the 347 million users recorded by the ITU for 2008.24 Access to the internet through mobile phones has risen as well, apparently due to a series of inexpensive rate plans that service providers introduced in early 2010. Still, only a small percentage of mobile-phone users access the web on their devices. According to IAMAI, an estimated 20 million people had such access in late 2010, up from 12 million in 2009.25 As of mid-2010, only the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and MTNL offered third-generation (3G) mobile internet services, though several private providers were scheduled to launch 3G services by early 2011.
However, in August 2010 it was reported that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had asked the Department of Telecommunications to suspend newly introduced 3G mobile service and halt providers’ ongoing rollout of the technology, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. The authorities apparently wanted time to develop the ability to intercept 3G TRAI, “‘Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicator Report’ for the Quarter Ending March 2010,” news release, July 22, 2010, http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReadData/trai/upload/PressReleases/744/qpressrelease22jul.pdf.
Nivedita Mookerji, “Stage Set for New Broadband Policy,” Daily News & Analysis, June 11, 2010, http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report_stage-set-for-new-broadband-policy_1394639.
Thomas K. Thomas, “Special Purpose Vehicle Planned for Broadband Push,” Business Line, July 23, 2010, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2010/07/24/stories/2010072453070100.htm.
Rohin Dharmakumar, “The Long Arm of Broadband,” Forbes India, February 5, 2010, http://business.in.com/article/breakpoint/the-long-arm-of-broadband/9592/1.
“India’s Mobile Phone Users Grow to 729.57 Million,” Economic Times, January 25, 2011, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/telecom/indias-mobile-phone-users-grow-to-72957million/articleshow/7361931.cms.
ITU, “ICT Statistics 2008—Mobile Cellular Subscriptions,” http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/icteye/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#.
Archna Shukla, “More People Are Logging On to Internet Via Cellphones,” Indian Express, August 10, 2010, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/more-people-are-logging-on-to-internet-via-cellphones/658375/0; see also Aguiar, The Internet’s New Billion.
INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net communications in the volatile region.26 Short-message service (SMS), or text messaging, has been blocked periodically in Jammu and Kashmir. For example, it was suspended in April 2010 amid popular unrest, but the ban was revoked within days.27 On September 23, 2010, the Indian government temporarily blocked mass text messages across India in anticipation of a court ruling on a hotly disputed place of worship in Ayodhya. Following the deferment of the verdict date, the ban was extended until September 30.There are presently no blanket restrictions on accessing advanced web applications like the video-sharing site YouTube, the social-networking site Facebook, or the Twitter microblogging platform. Such sites are becoming increasingly important in India. According to Alexa, Facebook is the third most popular site, followed by YouTube at fifth, the socialnetworking site Orkut at eighth, and Twitter at tenth.Three major operators sell international internet bandwidth at the wholesale level:
Tata Group’s VSNL, Bharti Airtel, and Reliance Globalcom. Since the deregulation of the telecommunications sector in the late 1990s, users in India have been able to choose among hundreds of different public and private service providers. BSNL and MTNL, both state owned, are the two largest ISPs, with a combined 70 percent of subscribers.30 They retain a dominance established before the appearance of private competitors such as Sify Technologies, Bharti Airtel, and Reliance Communications, each of which controls less than 10 percent of the market.31 Few of the 104 service providers authorized to offer broadband have been able to penetrate the market given the strong position occupied by BSNL and MTNL.32 However, both companies have been forced to offer lower rates to stave off the private ISPs.
Private companies have been more successful in the mobile-phone service market.
The top 10 providers are Bharti Airtel, BSNL, Vodafone Essar, Reliance Communications, Idea Cellular, Tata Communications, Tata Teleservices, Aircel, MTNL, and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Limited (TTML).33 Licenses are issued following a bidding process, but launching a mobile-phone service business in practice requires considerable financial clout and access to important government officials. In October 2010, a major corruption scandal involving the licensing of 2G services in 2008 was exposed. Evidence Mansi Taneja, “Home Ministry Asks DoT to Stop All 3G Services,” Business Standard, August 10, 2010, http://www.businessstandard.com/india/news/home-ministry-asks-dot-to-stop-all-3g-services/404078/.
Agence France-Presse, “Authorities Revoke Text Message Ban in Indian Kashmir,” Taipei Times, April 18, 2010, http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2010/04/18/2003470823.
“India Bans Bulk Text Messages Before Mosque Verdict,” Reuters, September 22, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSSGE68M03W20100923.
Alexa, “Top Sites in India,” http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/IN, accessedFebruary 7, 2011.
TRAI, The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators: January–March 2010 (New Delhi: TRAI, July 2010), http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReadData/trai/upload/Reports/51/finalperformanceindicatorReport9agust.pdf.
Mookerji, “Stage Set for New Broadband Policy.” “10 Top Telecom Service Providers in India,” Rediff.com, August 9, 2010, http://business.rediff.com/slideshow/2010/aug/09/slide-show-1-10-top-telcos-in-india.htm#contentTop.
INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net revealed that the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, had intentionally favored a few select bidders, including Reliance Communications. By not conducting a competitive auction before granting the licenses, his actions reportedly cost the government up to $39 billion.Raja resigned in November 2010, and was under investigation by a parliamentary public accounts committee at year’s end.Although opening a cybercafe was relatively simple in the past, law enforcement authorities have reportedly complicated the process in recent years. Obtaining a license now requires approval from as many as six different agencies. These difficulties, combined with increases in home and mobile internet connections, have dimmed prospects for new entrants to the cybercafe market.
The TRAI is the main regulatory body for telecommunications matters, with authority over ISPs and mobile-phone service providers. It functions as an independent agency, offering public consultations and other participatory decision-making processes.
While it has received some criticism, it is generally perceived as fair. However, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and the MHA also exercise control over several aspects of internet regulation, and interventions by the MHA in particular carry considerable weight. There have been no publicized disputes between the ministries and the TRAI to date.LIMITS ON CONTENT There has been no sustained government policy or strategy to block access to ICTs on a large scale, though blocks have been imposed sporadically during crises, such as the Kargil war with Pakistan in 1999. Attempts to filter content have mostly originated with state-level executive authorities, and with private individuals through court cases. However, government measures to institute administrative processes for removing certain content from the web, sometimes for fear they could incite violence, have become more common in recent years.
Since 2003, the institutional structure of internet censorship and filtering in India has centered on the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN), a body created in 2003 within the MCIT’s Department of Information Technology. CERT-IN serves as a nodal agency for accepting and reviewing requests from a designated pool of government officials to block access to specific websites. When it decides to block a site, it directs the Department of Telecommunications—also part of the MCIT—to order all licensed Indian Robert Clark, “India Rocked by 2G Scandal,” Telecoms Europe, November 19, 2010, http://www.telecomseurope.net/content/wrap-india-rocked-2g-scandal.
“Indian PM Singh Has ‘Nothing to Hide’ Over 2G Claims,” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), December 20, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12035906.
B. Raman, “The Internal Security Czar,” Outlook, December 24, 2009, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx263528.
INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net ISPs to comply with the decision. There is no review or appeals process in place.37 In June 2009, the authorities blocked a highly popular adult cartoon site called Savitabhabhi without granting the creators an opportunity to defend their right to free expression, raising concerns about the arbitrary nature and broad scope of the government’s power in this area.38 While there is no publicly available list of officially blocked websites, no politically oriented website is believed to have been blocked during the reporting period.