Voice and Data|September 2020
The internet in India has evolved through many crests and troughs. Can the digital ecosystem take it to the next “inclusive” level?

My friend Subhendu Parth just reminded me that the internet in India, as we know it, was started at the Lakshmi Nagar Exchange in Delhi. Those of us who are familiar with Delhi would know that in 1995 it was a not a very prosperous locality abutting the upcoming middle-class colonies of Patparganj and Mayur Vihar Phase 1 and Phase 2. The irony of it was not lost on me. Internet, which was for a very long time thought to be a “toy” for the rich kids in India, started in the relatively poor Lakshmi Nagar Exchange.

My story about the internet in India reaching the masses is in four broad phases: 2000-2007; 20082013; 2014-2019; and 2020 and beyond. However, let us start at the very beginning. The total number of internet users in India was 14 lakh in 1998, which grew to 28 lakh [ITU] in 1999. However, even this ridiculously low number did not prevent many entrepreneurs from riding the internet wave.

This was the age of much optimism and many dreams mainly supported by the developments in the US, and some of the marquee internet companies that we know today were founded during this period [Zoho, 1996]. Most of the internet entrepreneurs who are household names today left their well-paying jobs in India and the US and took a plunge into entrepreneurship during this period. If my dates are right, the biggest event of this period was certainly the selling of IndiaOne to Satyam for an eyepopping 115 million dollars in 1999.

Phase 1: 2000-2007

If 1999 was the year of Y2K opportunity for the software industry, 2000 was the year of the biggest challenge, the dotcom bust, for the infant Indian internet industry. Valuations plummeted for many companies, investors withdrew, and it was predicted that consumer internet business is never going to be able to stand on its feet.

Our first phase starts dramatically this year. Data shows India had 55 lakh internet users this year. In spite of the crisis, business internet users had almost doubled from the previous year: users had faith in the medium as did the founders, only the investors had withdrawn. This was also the year when the government foresaw the general potential of IT and the internet and passed the Information Technology Act 2000 to provide some guidance and some protection for the emerging technology services and consumer internet business. This proved to be an early encouragement to many businesses.


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September 2020