If access to the Internet is a basic human right—and the United Nations declared it one in the summer of 2016—then Reliance Jio deserves more credit than most for expanding access to it. The telecom upstart, launched in September of that year by Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, likes to say it provides the public with “digital oxygen.”
Two years ago, there wasn’t much oxygen to go around in the world’s second-most-populous country. Mobile phones crawled on 2G networks, and consumers typically paid more than 200 rupees ($2.88) for one gigabyte of data. India had just 153 million mobile Internet subscribers among its population of 1.3 billion. Enter Jio, with a speedy 4G network (which it spent billions building out), free calls, and dirt-cheap data (as low as 4¢ per GB). It has since issued a super-lowcost smartphone and is rolling out fixed broadband service as well. Reliance Jio, which says it’s profitable, has amassed 215 million subscribers in just 22 months.
The resulting “Jio-fication” has been nothing short of revolutionary; with data use surging and Jio’s competitors scrambling to match its offerings, the development has jump-started India’s digital economy. The biggest winners are those in rural areas or of modest means—the farmers, students, and entrepreneurs who finally have in their hands the tool they need to participate in the modern economy.
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