Chhimi Dema

Although discussions to connect a third internet gateway started in 2015, it is unlikely that it will be connected soon.

The Information and Communications Minister Karma Donnen Wangdi said telecom service providers in India are private companies, and as the government tries to lower the cost for the internet line, they want to increase it.

“The government talked with five telecom operators in India, but they won’t agree to connect the internet link because the rates Bhutan offers are low,” he said.

The two internet gateways today are from India through Phuentsholing and Gelephu. The third international internet gateway would connect Gelephu-Bongaigaon-Agartala in India to Cumilla-Kuakata in Bangladesh to Singapore.

Lyonpo Karma Donnen said that Bangladesh would send an official letter for the internet gateway, after which the ministry will discuss the final internet gateway cost with India.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said for better digital infrastructure in the country, the third internet gateway is essential.

As the joint sitting discussed the issue yesterday, the Opposition Leader asked when the country would have the third internet gateway link.

Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji said that the government alone cannot bring the internet gateway link.

He said that even if the Bhutanese and Indian governments have agreed to connect the link, the Indian private companies are reluctant. “And the two telecom operators in the country said they face challenges while working with the internet provider from India.”

During the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh in March, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a gesture of goodwill and friendship decided to provide Bhutan internet bandwidth at “a friendly rate”.

Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said the government doesn’t have much say because the telecom operators in the country and India cannot come to terms regarding the rates, so it delays getting the internet link to the country.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recommended speeding up the establishment of the third internet gateway through Bangladesh while discussing the performance audit report on implementation and management of the National Broadband Fibre Network.

Gasa’s National Council member Dorji Khandu said talks about the establishment of the third internet gateway through Bangladesh have been ongoing since 2015.

Citing an example of the internet blackout when Cyclone Amphan hit India in May 2020, he said that the third gateway was critical to ensure connectivity and address such issues.

Efforts and discussions to connect Bhutan to an alternate international internet gateway from Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh began in 2015.

In September 2016, a survey team sent from the Ministry of Information and Communications to study the most economical and fastest route identified six routes and it found Akhaura-Agartala-Guwahati-Samdrupjongkhar route to be the most economical.