Rural Maharashtra logs on to internet solutions

The internet boom has taken over India's villages, with Maharashtra recording the second highest number of rural internet subscribers in the country, a recent Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) report has revealed.

Till March 2015, Maharashtra (excluding Mumbai) had as many as 9.12 million rural internet subscribers, but east Uttar Pradesh topped with over 10 million. The third highest was Andhra Pradesh followed by Bihar. From farmers accessing the internet for weather and agriculture-related information to rural youths tapping the net for education and music — World Wide Web is no longer the urban man's prerogative.

Maharashtra tops the country for the highest number of internet users. The Trai report said that the top five service areas in terms of total internet subscribers (wired and wireless) are Maharashtra (25.53 million), Tamil Nadu including Chennai (24.14 million), Andhra Pradesh (22.12 million), UP (east) (20.38 million) and Karnataka (20.10 million).

Nilotpal Chakravarti, associate vice president, Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) told TOI that overall, rural internet subscription is quite high. "Even though, internet penetration is high in urban India, the growth of internet subscription is much more in rural areas, where most people use cellphone internet. It is not that people in rural areas are buying more laptops, but just that a lot of people in rural areas have internet on their cellphones," he said.

Chakravarti said that Maharashtra has more affluent tier 2 and tier 3 cities where people have more access to smartphones in comparison to some other such cities or villages in other states. "This has more to do with the internet awareness in Maharashtra's rural areas too. With the cost of smartphones coming down, villagers in Maharashtra can now afford them, which may not be the case for some villages in parts of the northeast or some tier 3 cities in other states," he said.

Chakravarti said that it is quite obvious that farmers in the villages of Maharashtra may not be using the internet to send or access emails or browse news websites but to access weather-related information or e-services offered by the government.

Minister for state for finance and rural development, Deepak Kesarkar, said that each village in Maharashtra has been connected by the internet. "A state government programme, called Sangram, which is a tie-up between Maharashtra government and Tata Consultancy Services, has village-level entrepreneurs to provide internet services there. Maharashtra has close to 25,000 such entrepreneurs," said Kesarkar.

A senior official from the state Directorate of Information Technology said that many e-services are now being provided in the state below the block level. "The state has over 7,000 citizens' service centres below block level, for the delivery of government to citizens (G2C) services and business to citizens (B2C) services at a location near the citizen's residence. These centres provide web-enabled services to villagers including cellphone/DTH recharge, electricity bill payments and even various types of certificates. Hence, internet penetration in the state's villages is increasing," he said, adding that telecom penetration itself is on the rise in rural areas.

Source: Times of India

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