Television: Legalised direct-to-home (DTH) television may shortly become available with the government finding out that it is possible to beam the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) channel in a DTH package without the need for an Indian licensed operator.

The inability to legalise DTH TV in Bhutan is primarily because the government required that BBS be included in the DTH package for Bhutan.

The government has found that suppliers of DTH TV based in the border town of Jaigaon are already including BBS in the channel packages they sell to Bhutanese customers.

With this new development, the government is considering floating a tender inviting interested Bhutanese individuals or companies to submit proposals on supplying DTH TV in Bhutan.

This could bring to an end a nearly five-year attempt to legalise DTH TV in Bhutan.

Since 2010, the government had been pursuing a lengthier approach of partnering with an Indian licensed operator, in this case Bharti Airtel, who then had to partner with another company, Greycell, to “downlink” the BBS signal in India, and then “uplink” it back to Bhutan in a Bharti Airtel package.

However, Greycell required a permit from the Indian government to downlink BBS into Indian territory but this was not achieved in the past four years.

“It didn’t get anywhere,” said information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji.

The secretary pointed out that in the mean time technological developments had overtaken the process and that it was found out that DTH TV suppliers in Jaigaon had found a way of downlinking and uplinking BBS.

Dasho Kinley said that the government has to be pragmatic and practical and move forward especially given that DTH is currently being supplied and used illegally in Bhutan.

It is illegal for Indian operators to supply DTH TV outside Indian territory. As a result, the Indian operators issue equipment and the service to “fictitious” Indian citizens.

Similarly, Indian DTH TV is illegal in Bhutan because it does not have the rights and permits from relevant agencies here.

Dasho Kinley said that the tender would invite those interested to propose their own technologies on how to supply DTH TV with BBS included. He said it has not yet been decided if only one or several licenses will be issued. However, he pointed out that it might be a better situation to have competition.

On what would happen to those who currently subscribe to illegal DTH TV, Dasho Kinley said that no decision has been made yet. “Keep in mind they’re illegal, once we’ve a legal person or operator, the legal one should always have an advantage over the illegal ones,” he said.

On the supply side, Dasho Kinley said that the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) was instructed to provide proof to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that Indian DTH operators are illegally downlinking and supplying BBS. TRAI had requested for evidence.

Department of Information and Media director general Kinley T Wangchuk pointed out that dealing with illegal DTH users may be a “complicated” affair when agencies are not willing to step forward to clamp down on such illegal activities.

But the director general also pointed out that the issue of finding a Bhutanese DTH TV operator is still in a “discussion stage”. He also said that while partnering with an Indian telecommunications company may not be required anymore, other Indian counterparts would still have to be consulted.

Dasho Kinley Dorji could not provide a time frame on when a local operator may be identified, however, he said that the ministry would like to complete the process as soon as possible.

According to a 2014 report available on the BICMA website, there were 4,856 active subscribers of illegal DTH last year. The report also states that this equals an income tax loss of Nu 12.1M and tax deducted at source loss from monthly subscription of Nu 17.5M.

Additionally, there are further revenue losses from not being able to collect license or permit fees, business income and entertainment tax.

Gyalsten K Dorji