Bhutan’s ICT global ranking improves

ICT: Bhutan’s ICT development index (IDI), used to monitor and compare developments in ICT between countries, has improved significantly since 2010, placing the country even above regional neighbours.

Bhutan has been ranked 119 in Measuring the Information Society Report 2015 compiled by the International Telecommunications Union. Bhutan was ranked 128 in 2010.

In comparison, India is ranked 131, Nepal follows at 136, and Bangladesh is at 144.

The rankings are based on the IDI score, which is a composite index combining eleven indicators into one benchmark measure that can be used to monitor and compare developments in ICT between countries and over time.

Bhutan’s IDI score is 3.35 out of 10, compared to 2.02/10 in 2010.

The IDI measures the level and evolution over time of ICT developments in countries, progress in ICT development, the digital divide, and the development potential of ICTs.

It is measured by looking at levels of ICT access, use, and skills.

The report points out that in the Asian region the most dynamic improvements were achieved by Bhutan, Thailand, and Mongolia. Bhutan is currently ranked 21 out of 32 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Korea, Hong Kong and Japan are the top three ranked countries in Asia. Globally, Korea, Denmark, and Iceland are ranked top three.

Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) officiating director, Jigme Tenzing attributed a number of factors for the improved ranking. He said that the farsighted visions of our Monarchs, the government, and donor support are to be attributed. For instance, he pointed out that the Indian government’s financial support had made it possible for the laying of fibre optic cables nationwide.

This increase in ranking is expected to improve investor confidence in doing ICT business in Bhutan. “The IDI ranking indicates the effort Bhutan has put into the adoption of ICT in the overall development,” Jigme Tenzing said. “Despite the improvement, it can be noticed that there is a lot to be done and it would take efforts from each individual of the nation to progress further.”

Challenges

But challenges towards further improving the ICT scenario exist such as ensuring reliable international internet connectivity, affordability, and quality of services.

For instance, both of Bhutan’s links to the internet pass through a vulnerable narrow strip of land in Siliguri, India. “So, establishing a reliable international connectivity has been a big challenge for Bhutan and this has been an impediment of foreign investment in the country,” Jigme Tenzing said.

It was also pointed out that the market for telecommunications and ICT services is low given the small population of the country but that the investments required for establishing the infrastructure for the services is high due to the geographical terrain. “This has led to reluctance in investment from the service providers,” he said.

For instance, the establishment of community centres in the gewogs to provide reliable and fast internet connectivity has been a continuing challenge due to the terrain, he explained.

The report also points out that while fixed-broadband prices increased in 2014, entry-level fixed broadband plans in some countries included better quality or higher speeds or more data for money.

In the Least Developed Countries (LDC) category, only three LDCs – Bhutan, Cambodia, and Timor-Leste offer a basic fixed-broadband connection speed of above 1Mbit/s (Megabit per second). The most common entry-level speed offered in developing countries is 256kbit/s (kilobit per second) and 5Mbit/s in developed countries.

In what may surprise local internet users, the report also reveals that internet prices in Bhutan are considered cheap for some data packages like the pre-paid handset based 500MB and pre-paid computer based 1GB.

However, this is calculated by considering the purchasing power of local currencies.

On measures to improve reliability, Jigme Tenzing said that tariff and quality of service studies to find avenues to reduce prices and improve quality are underway. Additionally, measures to foster competition among the service providers through implementation of regulations and creating business opportunities for the private sector in the ICT market are being pursued.

The government is working on regulations to increase the uptake of internet in the country so that the increased volume of users would reduce costs. Another measure being pursued is the establishment of a third link to the internet via Bangladesh.

The laying of optical fibre to 18 dzongkhags, and ADSS (All-Dielectric Self-Supporting) cables to two dzongkhags and 196 gewogs are underway. This high-speed network has been made available to the service providers for free to ultimately bring down the cost of connectivity.

The report also shows that Bhutan’s data cap of 4GB, which is in fact now 3.8GB following the imposition of tax, is higher than India (1.5GB), Bangladesh (2GB), but much lower than Nepal’s at 7GB.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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