In the latest report by Freedom House, the ‘internet freedom’ score used to assess the status of internet access in a country fell slightly over the last twelve months.   India had been climbing the tables over the last few years, a positive outlook considering some of the other countries in the region – it’s score was reported as 41 (100 is the maximum).  This equates to a result of a status of ‘partly free’ for the period up to May 2016.

mumbai-1370023_640

The report tries to build an assessment of how open and unregulated the internet is in a particular country.  It is also based on the population and how many people have access to the internet which also will boost the rating

There are also ranks for the number of obstacles, content restrictions and filtering plus other more public events like press freedom and arrests based on online activity.   These are especially important because unbelievably there are still countries where a Facebook ‘like’ can earn you a prison sentence.

Much of these reports however don’t always take account of the sophistication of the internet users in a specific county.   For example countries like China and Turkey have high levels of filtering and blocks but the users have access to all sorts of proxies and VPNs to circumvent them – read here.  This in reality means that often the censorship is not always enforced properly.

The idea is that the score represents the control that the state is trying to enforce on internet freedom even if it’s not always that successful.   India has previously had something of a light touch but there are many reports of internet shutdowns in specific parts of the country like Kashmir and Jammu perhaps linking in with the instability in those areas.

Internet penetration in India is relatively low compared to Western standards but the figure is rising quickly particularly with regards to mobile phone access.  The main barrier to improved penetration however is not artificial control but  the lack of infrastructure that is available particularly in the more remote areas of the country.  Whilst it is common to see users in more affluent areas happily using a VPN or Smart DNS Netflix solution, if you move to the villages then very few have any internet access at all.

There are major efforts to remedy this though with some very large investments being made by the state in order to improve the infrastructure for both mobile and standard internet access. Many countries are realising that the digital economy is an important sector including within their own domestic markets.   In developed countries the number of people employed and running businesses online is rising fast and there is an obvious opportunity for countries like India to benefit from this market too.