Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, delivers a keynote speech at the Seoul Digital Forum.
In the last fortnight, Google seems to have adopted an India outreach programme. Founder and CEO Larry Page first announced that the 40-year-old Tamil Nadu-born, IIT-educated Sundar Pichai will now be heading the $50 billion company’s Android division. Then to seemingly further this India connect, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt decided to pay the country a visit. Topping Mr Schmidt’s agenda was a pitch for a more open internet. But it isn’t just his prescriptions for online democracy that the government should consider. Shortly into his visit, the Google chairman was forced to admit, “Internet in India feels like it was in 1994 in America.” If this near two-decade lag wasn’t enough, he also cautioned that the internet revolution may just pass India by. Unfortunately, varied statistics and temperamental internet speeds all point to an actualisation of Mr Schmidt’s warnings.
Much has been made about India’s 929 million mobile phone connections. With smart phones becoming more popular — over half the mobile devices sold last year were smart phones — a case could well be made for the phone being the internet platform of the future. Such predictions, however, would be limited in their clairvoyance. Even though 3G speeds bring us accessibility to our email inbox and trendy applications, they are incapable of being able to bear the burden of emerging India’s professional and commercial enterprise. With just 1.18% of its population having access to broadband internet, India would do well to pay heed to Mr Schmidt’s advice. By bettering bandwidth with the help of undersea and fibre optic cables, Indian internet could move from a domain of exclusivity to one of access.
Akamai, managers of an internet content delivery system, had concluded in a 2012 report that 113 countries had internet speeds which could better India’s average of 0.9mbps. It comes as little surprise then that Mr Schmidt should make a point of mentioning that Indian entrepreneurs head 40% of the start-ups in Silicon Valley. It seems a real pity that the country still lacks the infrastructure to nurture its potential army of possible Mark Zuckerbergs.