Men use smartphones in front of a shuttered store in Mumbai. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Mukesh Ambani’s Cheap Data Fuels India’s Piracy Addiction

India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani’s data war has had an unintended fallout: a steep spike in piracy.

Indians now visit websites offering pirated content nearly twice as much, according to data shared with BloombergQuint by piracy tracker MUSO. Overall visits to piracy websites in the country rose from 8.8 billion in 2016 to about 17 billion last year. Nearly three-quarters of the traffic came from mobile devices—higher than the global average of 60 percent.

Mukesh Ambani’s Cheap Data Fuels India’s Piracy Addiction

That comes when billionaire Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. unleashed a tariff war—starting with free services in September 2016 and then by offering cheaper data plans since April 2017. Rivals matched prices to avoid losing users to the upstart. That gave subscribers access to faster data in the world’s second-largest telecom market, which is expected to have over half a billion smartphone users this year. Average monthly data usage of a wireless user has jumped eightfold since Reliance Jio’s launch, according to the telecom regulator. The operator is now India’s the fourth largest with 15 percent of the total 1.15 billion wireless subscribers.

“As the technological infrastructure has strengthened, we’ve seen piracy consumption increase,” Simon Horton, head of software development at MUSO, said in an emailed response to BloombergQuint. “As more of the population gets online, this trend is likely to continue.”

To be sure, visits to sites offering unlicensed content spiked in all countries that have been on top of the piracy chart, MUSO data showed. But it rose at the fastest pace in India last year.

The world’s second most populous nation continues to lead the music piracy chart for the second straight year. Visits to websites offering unlicensed access to music more than doubled in 2017 over the previous year.

Mukesh Ambani’s Cheap Data Fuels India’s Piracy Addiction

(Updates an earlier version to add telecom regulator’s average data usage in the third para)