Three different sets of data are available on internet penetration and use in India – from TRAI, from the census and from IAMAI-IMRB. But even read together the data fails to provide a comprehensive picture of digital inclusion in India.The absence of meaningful data cannot be overemphasized as we set out to achieve Digital India goals. The first four headlines that the internet search engine Google spits out when you type ‘internet use India’ are ‘Internet users in India to cross 300 mn by Dec: Report’, ‘India to have 213 million mobile Internet users by June: IAMAI-IMRB report’, ‘India will have 40m new mobile internet users in 6 months’ and ‘India to have more internet users than US by December end: IAMAI’. When you take a look at the datelines, they are November 19, 2014 and January 13 and 14, 2015. The source for all the stories is the same – a research jointly conducted by an industry body, Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), and a market research agency, IMRB International. The first pit stop, in these days of internet-based research,for finding out just how many people in India, or in any city in the country, are on the internet is, then, this report. The additional benefit that this report offers is that, as an annual exercise, it offers comparative data. But, before sharing the data it delivers, let us understand how it arrives at this data.
The report relies on sampling the population. It samples the population in 35 cities and also has a separate section on rural India. Since our interest is in the cities, primarily Pune and for some comparative purposes the seven other large metros, we will try to understand the data from these cities. Once the cities are selected, the sampling method used is called quota sampling. A quota sample is, as any basic research textbook will tell you, a nonprobability sample or one that is not representative of the entire population. Such methods are not the best to generalise to the population. However, by choosing randomly within each of the sections (quotas), the validity can become more robust, which is what the report says the researchers have done. The quotas used for this research were households from SEC A, B, C, D, and E. Now SEC,or Socio-Economic Classification, is a form of market segmentation that uses education of the chief earner and ownership of 11 consumer durables to divide or segment the population. This classification is primarily used as a yardstick by the media industry when it tries to reach out to advertisers. The actual stretch is from SEC A1 all the way to SEC E3 (A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, C1, C2, D1, D2, E1, E2 and E3. It should be noted that while it is called Socio-Economic, it is primarily an economic classification since the ownership of consumer durables is the primary yardstick mapped to the education of the chief earner in the household. The assumption behind the naming, presumably, is that possession of consumer durables and the education of the chief earner are valid proxies for social indicators.). So when we look at the data below, we need to remember that the population is sampled in proportionto the spread of these segments in the general population. Unlike the 2012 and 2013 reports, the 2014 Internet in India report does not tell us the actual sample size. Understanding the method used is one part of understanding the research report.
The other important part that concerns us is what the people were asked. So there are two labels that we need to understand: Claimed Users and Active Users. Claimed Users, the report tells us, are those who replied with a‘yes’ to the question: Have they used theinternet ever (on a PC, mobile phone, tablet). The Active Internet User is one who answered ‘Yes’ to each of the following three questions: Have they used a PC?Have they used the internet ever (on a PC, mobile phone, tablet)?Have they accessed the internet in the last one month (on a PC, mobile phone, tablet)?One of the challenges of doing research can be seen in how the active user is defined. If you ask a young urban man or woman whether s/he is active on the internet and then ask what the term ‘active’ means in this context, s/he might reply that it means checking Facebook at least three times a day. For another person, getting on the internet once a week to check email may be active. But for this study, a person who has accessed the internet once in the last one month is active.