The telecom policy replaces the Bhutan ICT policy, 2004

IT: The government will have to ensure affordable connectivity for all through the creation of a conducive environment for private investments and competition.

This is one of the many objectives of the Bhutan Telecommunications and Broadband policy 2014, which will guide the development of the telecommunications and Internet broadband sectors. The policy was launched yesterday.

Some of the specific changes the policy will attempt to introduce include opening up the mobile market to more telecommunications companies. Market exclusivity for Bhutan Telecom and Tashi InfoComm ended in 2013.

Towards this, the government will promote private investments including public private partnerships and curb all anti-competitive behaviour, it is pointed out in the policy

The policy will also require service providers to provide quality of service guarantees to consumers and service level agreements as moves to protect consumers.

The policy will also attempt to minimise telecommunications infrastructure by introducing a sharing arrangement by making all infrastructure belonging to it or its corporations available to other telecommunications companies. This move is also aimed at reducing the number of telecommunications infrastructure in the country so that its impact on the environment is minimised.

In an ambitious effort, the policy will require the government to establish a “robust” communication system for use during disasters by mandating all telecom operators to follow international standards and best practises for contingency planning.

The policy will put a focus on regulations promoting innovation, competition, customer services, fair play, and environmental responsibility.

Recognising the criticality of the sector, a telecom department will eventually also be formed.

On the broadband sector, the policy aims to make entry level broadband services available to 80 percent of the Bhutanese population within the current Plan, and at an affordable rate. Broadband is defined as having a minimum download speed of 512 kilobits per second, for now. What constitutes an affordable rate is not mentioned.

Almost 47 percent of the population is subscribed to internet services as of December, last year, while around 84 percent have access to mobile services.

The policy also calls for 100 percent of academic institutions having access to broadband.

The information and communications ministry will implement the policy while an e-Gov executive committee will ensure accountability on the part of agencies concerned.

The policy will be a “living document” which means that it will be reviewed and revised regularly to keep up with the dynamism of telecommunications and broadband. The policy replaces the Bhutan ICT Policy and Strategy (BIPS) 2004.

Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel, who launched the policy, said the implementation of the policy is intended to take the ICT sector to the next level. He added that ICT education in schools is essential towards making innovation a part of the development process. Lyonpo pointed out that 50 more schools would be connected to broadband internet by the end of this year.

“Whether it is e-governance e-health, e-education, e-agriculture, IT and ITES businesses, we have only just started. We have to do much more, and pursue at a much larger scale and with better resultant value,” said lyonpo. “Innovation is the conduit.”

The policy was launched yesterday to mark World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. Bhutan became a member of the International Telecommunications Union in 1988 and is currently ranked 123 out of 193 in terms of ICT development, which is higher than several other countries in the region, including Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. Lyonpo said that Bhutan must aim to achieve a rank in the top 50 within the next few years.

However, the minister pointed out that while much progress has been made, Bhutan was not close to achieving its goal of becoming a knowledge society. He added that continuous support has to be sought from the ITU and other donor countries and agencies.

As part of the day’s celebrations, the Bhutan Information Communications Technology and Training Association and local company iSoft, were recognised for their contributions to the sector.

Recognition of individuals as “ICT champions” has been deferred, as there were not enough nominations.


By Gyalsten K Dorji