Making a billion go online: FICCI calls for language friendly internet

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While piecemeal work has been done in building local language technology support in India, much more needs to be done, including building an environment where developers look at language related coding as an option that will not restrict their ability to do other kind of coding, or the need to translate between different Indian languages for wider adoption of the Internet and related business opportunities, said participants at a conference held in Delhi on Monday. 

As much as 70 per cent of Indians are non-English speakers, and the global mission is to bring the next billion people online making the Internet more friendly for their language. 

In the past five years, much progress has been made in language technology. "From no domain names (in local language) in 2014, to all (Indian) languages today. Much work has also been done in voice to text technology, where people can write by speaking in their own language. We have attained an accuracy in voice-to-text translations. Phonetics has also improved, keyboards have become more user user friendly, and give better suggestions in predictive text," said Ajay Data, Co-Chair, ICT and Digital Economy Committee, FICCI.                                                

FICCI-Indian Language Internet Alliance (FICCI-ILIA) is an initiative of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a partnership working towards the development of a robust Indian language ecosystem. On Monday, FICCI-ILIA and the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology, MyGov, and Technology Development for Indian Languages organized its annual event Bhashantara 2019 for Indian languages technology industry. 

The FICCI-ILIA began in December 2017 with a handful of members, and has reached 364 members in less than two years. 

"While there has been phenomenal growth in Indian language users who are keen to use Indian language content to be able to navigate their way through the treasure of the internet, the amount of Indic content on the internet has not grown proportionately to support the increasing user base. Any such gap is not only a huge economic opportunity but also a huge opportunity to create new innovative technologies for India and rest of the world. The socio-economic benefits are large and immediate enough for the ecosystem to take up coordination and communication to build a professional and sustainable industry," said Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. 

The theme for this year’s conference was “Internet for All: Harnessing the Potential of Indian Languages to Tap the Next Half Billion Users”. Industry leaders and experts from across the country took part in insightful discussions on the preservation of endangered languages of India. 

"It is important to take steps to ensure that modern technologies are leveraged into service for use of all 22 official languages to be used on information and communications devices. India has a remarkable diversity in terms of languages written and spoken in different parts of the country. This makes India a unique country in a world. I congratulate FICCI-ILIA to organize Bhashantara to build a professional and sustainable Indian language industry. A robust and multilingual Indic internet will enable around half a billion people in India to use the internet effectively,” said Anuradha Mitra, Secretary, Department of Official Languages, Ministry of Home Affairs. 

There is also a clear business opportunity in bringing the next billion users online in the next few years. 

A recent Google study showed a 61 per cent growth in Indian language e-commerce searches in 2017. The same report also said that 45 percent of shopping queries came from non-metros compared to 36 percent in 2016, with the highest volume coming from Lucknow, Jaipur and Indore.

Last year, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) & Kantar IMRB, in a joint report said a potential 205 million internet non-users are likely to go digital if the Internet is provided in a language of their choice.

The business imperative is thus becoming clear- English speaking markets are saturated, and the next wave of growth for online business and hence money, will come from small town India. 

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