Internet’s Bottom of the Pyramid

“The next hundred million possible users of the internet in India today work as shop assistants, or as hawkers, or as street vendors, and earn less than Rs 9,000 a month, according to the report, How India Earns Spends and Saves, from the National Council of Applied Economic Research. An affordable internet connection for them means one priced at less than Rs 100 a month, always-on and unlimited usage.”

It distracts you from the hype. CEO Ajit Balakrishnan’s column in Business Standard on Oct 7 is a narrative that takes Digital India beyond online shopping. A worrying side story is how the country’s largest e-commerce engines would struggle to get the next 100 or 200 million internet users spend online. And how tenacious are some of those chest thumping valuations built on parallels drawn with China.

That’s another argument.

The exciting thought is a whole new way to chase the Bottom of the Pyramid story. A new potential to unearth fortune at the bottom. Affordable internet access can propel big entrepreneurial journeys in India’s healthcare, education and agriculture. This is internet’s worthwhile promise, Balakrishnan notes.

Successful internet entrepreneurs have solved “pain points” in “must have” services and products. Imagine this in vast swathes of urbanizing population in one of the fastest growing markets. India’s digital economy, if powered by cheaper internet, will be mining the next 200 million, or possibly, the next 400 million people, for many billion-dollar enterprises.

As Balakrishnan argues, it’s time for peering digital and political economies to make internet cheaper.


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