At his address to the USIBC (US-India Business Council) summit on Wednesday, prime minister Narendra Modi said that India now has more rural than urban internet users for the first time. During his address, PM Modi also said that "there are about half a billion active internet users in India now".
Now both these statements contradict with the quarterly data released by the telecom regulator TRAI. How? As per the TRAI report for October to December 2019 - the latest report available - the total internet subscribers in the country stand at 718.74 million, which are way above half a billion figure quoted by the PM.
While this figure includes all kinds of internet users - wired, wireless, broadband, narrowband - assuming that the PM was talking just about the broadband subscribers (which is the largest of the lot), even then the number is much larger than half-a-billion - 661.94 million to be precise.
In terms of rural internet subscribers, PM Modi said that they are higher than urban internet users. Let's look at the TRAI figures. In December 2019, the rural internet subscribers stood at 268.43 million as compared to 450.31 million urban internet users. This shows that the difference between the urban and rural internet users is quite high.
In fact, the TRAI data points out that there are 106.22 internet users per 100 people living in urban areas. This is due to higher number of multi-SIM users in urban locations. Whereas the density of internet users in rural areas is fairly low - 29.83 users per 100 people.
While one can argue that it's already July, and the rural numbers would have grown since then, it's important to look at the rate of growth of rural internet subscribers over the past few years. That should give a fair idea of the approximate number of internet users at the moment.
For instance, the CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of rural internet subscribers over the past three years (from December 2016 to December 2019) was 32.62 per cent. The urban subscriber CAGR over the same period was 17.66 per cent. It may be noted that the jump in the overall internet users across the country has been pronounced since 2016 due to the sharp fall in data tariffs after the launch of Reliance Jio. Even if the numbers are extrapolated till June 2020 (on the basis of these historical CAGR growth numbers), the number of rural internet users would still be far lower in comparison to urban internet users. If at all, the number of rural and urban internet users would have fallen during the lockdown - as shown in the TRAI's monthly subscriber data for March 2020.