Two programmes, the Government Initiated Network project and Rural Communication Programme was implemented to improve network connectivity, according to the Minister of Information and Communications, Karma Donnen Wangdi.

He said this while responding to a question from the Khar-Yurung’s Member of Parliament (MP) Tshering Chhoden’s query on the government’s plans and measures taken to ensure online classes are productive.

According to the MP, the quality of education has been compromised due to low internet speed in the remote areas. “It resulted in a difference in the quality of education in rural and urban areas.”

Lyonpo Karma Donnen said that the Government Initiated Network under the Digital Drukyul flagship programme is connecting schools, offices and health units with fibre optics. “This would increase the internet bandwidth (data transfer capacity).”

He said that after completion of this project, there would not be an issue with the speed of the internet.

The Rural Communication Programme would also provide reliable mobile communication services and improve internet connectivity.

Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi said that through the programme’s sixth phase, 483 households would have access to telecommunication services.

The sixth phase of the programme started in March 2021 and is expected to complete by September 2022.

Lyonpo said that the two telecom operators in the country increased their infrastructure to cater to the network congestion from increased users.

He said the telecos improved internet connection in 390 sites. “The government and the two telecos invested Nu 1.08 billion to improve the internet connections. There is a need to invest more.”

He also said that to ensure that the online classes are productive, the telecom operators increased the data volume of student data plans by 30 percent at the same data costs.

Lyonpo said that according to the ministry’s records, 10,000 households had television but no access to BBS channels. “MoIC, in collaboration with the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority, connected 7,268 households with the BBS channels to enable students to access the education ministry’s e-Learning programme.”

He said the ministry was also exploring other options of internet connections such as the Starlink satellite internet services.

There are 688,935 active mobile broadband subscriptions in the country last year, according to the annual info-comm and transport statistical bulletin.

Meanwhile, people residing in many remote parts of the country struggle to have a stable internet connection.

When most of the learning and working shifted online during the pandemic, users attributed poor learning and communication to an unstable internet connection.

“The internet has many educational contents that teachers can access to make classes interesting,” a teacher from Mongar said. “But slow internet was a problem.”

According to the teacher, although the telecom operators provide services, there was no quality.

A class XII graduate in Mongar, Dorji, said that he could access the internet by standing in a particular location in his village. “It was frustrating for me when I had to spend hours outside the house while applying for undergraduate scholarships.”

He said although the internet has so much to offer for people, one cannot learn anything with the current network connectivity.

By Chhimi Dema

Edited by Tashi Dema