At MWC, partner service providers claimed that they had seen rise in data use post Internet.org. Do you see this happening in India?
Ashok Lalla, global head – digital marketing, Infosys (AL): Initially, that may be the case - as in most things that induce trial thanks to being free to use. Whether this early trial translates into sustained data use is to be seen. Also, if this usage crosses a certain threshold, it’s not clear how the carriers will address this. Would usage continue to be free, or would there be a move to stimulate shifts to paid usage (to a wider selection of sites) for say the heavy ‘power’ users of Internet.org, is something to be seen.
Lloyd Mathias, CMO, HP (LM): Increased internet penetration will certainly see a rise in data use. This will grow in India as well.
Others like Sunil Mittal have opposed the notion that a CSP should partner for free. Is there merit in his argument? Does it benefit Facebook more than anyone else?
AL: The basis of the current selection of sites on offer via Internet.org in India is not clear. From early reports, it does seem that folks believe that Facebook stands to gain from usage of Internet.org. For instance, e-mail is not offered via this platform and the argument for this is that Facebook Messenger would suffice to help people connect to others. That strengthens the voices that say that Facebook is looking for gain for itself.
LM: The spread of the internet is a positive development in a knowledge economy; it is important for more people to access the internet. This will lead to increased participation
Google is on the platform in one market. Will such large players and apps make the platform’s mission more credible?
AL: The availability of a wide selection of sites will certainly help drive adoption. It’s less about credibility of the sites and more about choice of sites a user has that will drive its popularity.
LM: Yes, large players will need to come together to increase internet penetration. It takes the participation of large platforms or apps to makes things interesting. The moment the larger players get in, the platform gets richer and more relevant to the consumer.
Do you foresee ‘internet for everyone’ in India?
AL: Cost of internet access is not the only deterrent to the growth in the numbers of internet users in India, Literacy too plays a role, and mere access to sites that people cannot understand will do little. Also, lack of relevant vernacular content is also one of the reasons for the lower adoption of internet amongst masses of mobile phone users.
This itself has given rise to innovations such as missed-call marketing and call backs that are in local languages and remove the necessity to read content.
LM: Yes. It’ll happen as part of the ‘Digital India’ Mission and the spread of the so-called NOFN (National Optic Fibre Network), which is predicated on the fact that we need to get more people into the fold of the internet. It’s already a current movement outside of Internet.org.I think that in India it’s only a matter of time since we’ve seen the jump in internet proliferation from under 30 million to 300 million in three years.
What does the consumer gain? How can it be ensured that existing web users cannot avail of the service?
AL: Currently in India, the access is only via Reliance Communications so not really everyone can use the service. If free access to the internet (albeit to a small selection of sites) is what a consumer wants, then this could be a ‘gain’.
Limiting people with existing data plans from accessing Internet.org is how one would prevent the shift of paid users to the platform. Then again, since only a few sites can be accessed currently on the platform, shifting to it for existing web users who pay for data access is hardly likely to be a very attractive proposition.
LM: It’s very difficult. I assume that each person would have his own requirement and therefore choose a service appropriate to him. I understand that it’s more along the lines of connecting the unconnected, so I know the penetration is going to focus on the lesser connected areas. Having said that, it may be difficult to also segregate users who may be able to pay for the service.
Should the government support it?
AL: If essential services can be provided to the larger population through the platform, as well as government outreach programmes related to its ‘Digital India’ mission and in key areas such as healthcare, education, employment generation, then certainly wider access to these sites through something like Internet.org is likely to get support even from the government.
LM: Most certainly. The spread of the internet is actually a key element to the country’s ‘Digital India’ plan.
How can it support the platform beyond essential services information?
AL: The government seems happy to support private-public initiatives but really the benefits of these must be widespread and should in some way align with its own programmes in order for it to support the initiatives. Else, it will be up to the private sector to evolve its own user acquisition and adoption strategies.
LM: As I mentioned, it already factors into the larger mission of what the government is talking about in India. So, I think the government should lend its support.
This first appeared in the 20 March issue of Campaign India