The Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) will soon implement the fifth phase of the rural connectivity programme (RCP) that would connect 35 villages in 18 gewogs with a reliable mobile network.

The minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi, assured this while responding to Chukha National Council (NC) member Sangay Dorji during the question hour session yesterday.

The lyonpo said that the ministry recently completed implementing four phases of the programme that began early 2018.

In phase I of the RCP, 204 villages in 51 gewogs were connected with a mobile network. In phase II, 307 villages in 56 gewogs were connected. Another 60 villages in 18 gewogs were connected in the III phase and phase IV covered 63 villages in 21 gewogs.

All RCP programmes were implemented through universal service fund, which the minister said was allocated to prioritise and improve mobile connectivity across the country. “After completing RCP V, we’ll work towards providing 3G service in all the villages,” he said. “All highways will also have mobile network coverage.”

He invited NC members to visit MoIC to discuss further in details of villages that need proper mobile connectivity. “That will enable utilisation of the fund effectively.”

Chukha NC member, citing examples of how poor mobile network connectivity is in remote areas, said that Gidaphu village in Bongo gewog has a mobile network in just one household. “In Toktogom village, villagers have to climb a hilltop to make a phone call.”

He said that telecom operators have informed that expansion and improvement of such services are based on business viability, which depends on the number of households and residing population in those particular villages.

“If such criteria are used, many villages and communities would not be connected for a long time,” Sangay Dorji said.

Meanwhile, the minister was also questioned on the plans government has to improve Bhutan Broadcasting Service television and radio coverage in the rural areas.

Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi said that television and radio coverage is a priority of the government. “It is one of the main medium that provides news and information to the rural residents.”

He said the information technology and telecom department is installing a South Asia Satellite project in the Bhutan Broadcasting Service compound, which is on a testing phase at the moment. “Once the testing is complete and the implementation begins, television and radio network is expected to reach all places through a simple set-top box.”

Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi, however, said that according to information he received, most of the villages and gewogs can avail television and radio services. “Please cross check again and let me know if there are places without the two services.”

Thimphu NC member Tshewang Rinzin said that more than television, radio is an important medium in the rural areas.

He said that during his constituency visit, he could hear people listening to radio frequencies of other countries because of unavailability of BBS. “This will pose a security threat,” he said.

Nirmala Pokhrel