Millions of Indians are yet to try the internet for the first time only because language poses a barrier.
In a 2018 survey across India, China, and Indonesia, three in four respondents said they believe that a lack of understanding of the English language is keeping new users at bay.
The survey, conducted by Booking Holdings (the US-headquartered parent company of travel sites Booking.com and Agoda.com), was released on January 18. The findings are based on an online quantitative survey across the three Asian markets between July 31, 2018 and August 22, 2018. Respondents in the survey included over 1,000 technology leaders and experts.
India has one of the smallest percentages of English-speaking people (though this numerically amounts to a sizeable number). The country officially speaks 22 languages but is actually home to over 19,500 dialects. Most Indians trust vernacular-language content on the internet more than they do English material, a 2017 KPMG-Google study revealed.
But the internet hasn’t kept pace with these preferences.
Back in the 1990s, English content comprised over 80% of the internet. Although that share has declined to a quarter today, it is languages like Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic that have come up. Indian languages are still out of the picture.
“These findings together point to a paradox of the internet: connectivity provides the potential to access information and education (including language skills), but if new Internet users do not already speak a commonly used language, then the potential benefits of the Internet remain out of reach,” the report said.
Around eight in 10 survey respondents cited the lack of publicly available internet and lack of digital security against cybercrimes as the other key barriers to internet adoption.
The report revealed that starting to surf the web is not entirely in the hands of the next billion. Many external factors are at play, from the need for robust internet policies to affordable devices and internet services.
Already, India and others have begun making strides towards increased connectivity.
“With projects such as the $35 billion (Rs 2.5 lakh crore) investment in 4G by Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, China’s plans to give almost all villages broadband connections by 2020, and Indonesia’s $1.3 billion fiber-optic Palapa Ring project, these barriers are quickly coming down,” the report said.
After India’s richest man, Ambani, disrupted India’s $50 billion telecom industry with his upstart Reliance Jio more than two years ago, data prices in India plummeted. Then, he started offering 4G-enabled featurephones loaded with services for peanuts.
Once connected, the next billion plans to use the internet to avail of an array of services such as buying goods and services, consuming news, and accessing social media.
“Looking at the ways in which respondents anticipate the Next Billion using the Internet, a picture emerges of aspirations waiting to be unleashed,” Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, said. “When these consumers are finally connected to the Internet, it is likely to accelerate a whole range of areas including the retail market, the job market, and leisure and entertainment landscape.”
This article first appeared on Quartz.