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India Targets 23 million New Internet Connections By 2005

According to the Indian Government's Planning Commission, the number of Internet connections in the country will grow from more than 3 million now to 23 million during its 10th Five-Year Plan, which starts next year and ends in 2007.

Other private agencies have looked at India's Internet subscriber numbers as well:

* A recent study by the Gartner Group has suggested that the country has topped the list of Internet users in the Asia Pacific region for 2001. India has an estimated 3.1 million regular Internet surfers, although the number of registered users would hover at just about 1 million.

* A study by India's Manufacturers Association of Information Technology (MAIT) has revealed that the number of Internet subscribers has increased to 1.12 million during the 2000 - 2001 period from just 651,000 in the previous year; the home segment registered a whopping compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 215 percent.

"The number of active Internet subscribers increased to 1.12 million by March 2001, leading to 67 percent penetration among PC-owning business establishments and 54 percent penetration in PC-owning homes," the annual survey found.

* IDC India predicts that the number of Internet users will grow eight-fold to 37.5 million by end-2005, representing a CAGR of 53 percent for the period 2000 - 2003; the research firm had estimated that there were 4.47 million unique Internet users in India in 2000. India is expected to be next only to China in the Asia Pacific region in terms of total number of Internet users by end-2005.

IDC also forecasts that India's home and small business segments will drive the growth in the Internet user base for the next five years. For the period 2000 - 2005, the Internet user base in the home segment is expected to witness a CAGR of 87 percent, while that of the small business segment is expected to grow by a CAGR of 72 percent.

Despite the differences in actual prediction figures, all agencies have agreed on one point - India is expected to see the highest growth rate in the region's Internet market in the next five years.

Seeking to promote the spread of the Internet, the Planning Commission said telecom operators must get the required bandwidth and the last-mile connection to achieve that aim. The use of cable network and DSL technologies may be actively promoted to provide higher bandwidth to Internet users, it said.

"For dial-up Internet users, telephone call charges are a major element of cost, with the higher local call charges and multi-metering of local calls discouraging its usage. Call charges for Internet use need to be brought down substantially," added the Planning Commision's report.