In a bid to make India’s rural masses Internet savvy, Google launched on Tuesday an “Internet bus” that will roll into 15 towns in the state of Tamil Nadu over a period of one and half months.
The bus has Internet connectivity using satellite, a spokeswoman for Google India said.
At stops, the bus will provide local people with content in English and the local language Tamil, which will give them an understanding of how the Internet can be used to meet their needs, Google said. People will be shown videos of how a variety of people including grandparents, small entrepreneurs, and students are already using the Internet to their benefit, it added.
In many cases, people have access to the Internet through cyber cafes in the locality, but they do not use it because they are not aware of the benefits, the Google spokeswoman said.
Depending on the pilot in Tamil Nadu, Google will figure out how to go forward with the bus program, she added.
The move by Google comes even as Internet companies are seeing an increase in demand from rural India for Internet services and content in local languages. A large number of these users are using mobile phones to access the Internet.
About 30 percent of traffic to Yahoo’s news portals for example is to the local language portals, a spokeswoman for Yahoo said on Tuesday. Most of the users still use the English language site besides the site in their local language, she added.
Yahoo has in India portals and tools like email and chat that support over eight Indian languages.
More people are now accessing portals and tools using mobile phones, and about 40 percent of these come from smaller towns, the Yahoo spokeswoman said. People in small towns are more at ease using mobile phones than PCs to access the Internet, she added.
Facing a saturation of demand in the cities, Indian mobile services companies are targeting rural markets.
The rural mobile subscriber base in India grew by over 28 percent to 91 million in the third quarter last year from 71 million in the previous quarter, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Google and some other Internet companies are offering technology to allow access to the Internet using local languages.
Google offers, for example, transliteration in five Indian languages, news in four Indian languages, bidirectional machine translation for English to Hindi, and soft keyboards for a large number of Indian languages. It also offers versions for mobile users of its search, maps, and Orkut social networking applications.