ICT: An information access centre which will allow any individuals of the public to use the internet for free will be established at the Royal Institute of Management (RIM), later this year.

“Providing free access to individuals who want internet at any point of time,” Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) director, Phuntsho Tobgay said.

A memorandum of understanding that will see the centre established was signed between the government, the National Information Society Agency (NIA) of the South Korean government, and the RIM, in Thimphu, yesterday.

The NIA will fund the establishment of the information access centre. It will provide around USD 300,000. Between 30-60 computers will be provided by the NIA.

Under the four-year MoU, one of the conditions was the provision of free internet. “We’re required to give free access, for ICT uptake, so free access to anyone who wants to have access to the internet,” Phuntsho Tobgay said.

The RIM will be responsible for operation and maintenance, and sustainability of the centre, while the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) will play a monitoring role. Under the MoU, the NIA will also provide maintenance.

Phuntsho Tobgay explained that besides the free internet lounge, there are two more components, of which one is training.

The director said that as DITT has to conduct several ICT related trainings every year, another condition of the memorandum of understanding is that the lounge will also double as a training centre. This centre will then be provided by RIM to the government at no cost when it has to conduct such ICT trainings.

“We’ve so much costs when we talk about trainings, hiring charges, so this will be a very good opportunity for us,” Phuntsho Tobgay said.

However, while the centre will be providing free internet access to the public and a free training venue for the government, RIM as the operator, will have to ensure sustainability. This will be achieved by, for one, charging any other entities, besides the government, for use of the centre for trainings or other purposes. Any earnings will be kept by RIM.

The layout of the centre will be kept flexible. Besides the internet lounge and training lab, the centre will also offer video conferencing facilities, and could also include an interactive lecture room, and a smart themed zone used for IT education.

Phuntsho Tobgay explained that the idea was initiated during a meeting between the government and NIA on the sidelines of an IT forum in Bangkok, some months ago. The meeting had been set up by the International Telecommunications Union.

Three agencies where the centre could be located in Thimphu were initially identified and expressions of interest submitted. One possible location was at the DITT premises, the other was the Department of Youth and Sports, and the RIM campus.

The NIA delegation found the RIM campus to be the most suitable, said Phuntsho Tobgay. He added that RIM had certain advantages like trained faculty that are already providing IT trainings. RIM has already identified the manager and operators of the centre. The manager will receive a week long training in South Korea at NIA’s cost.

“If this operation turns out to be successful then we’ve been informed by NIA that a second phase of the IAC will be set up,” Phuntsho Tobgay said.

By Gyalsten K Dorji