Tech: Imagine a future where you have access to high-speed Internet connectivity at an affordable rate. A network that appears like an international-highway connecting countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

This revolutionary future has already started to take shape.

A two-day seminar on the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS), an initiative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) to improve regional broadband connectivity through a network of open access cross-border infrastructure is underway in Thimphu.

According to a press release from UNESCAP, Asia and Pacific is the most digitally divided region in the world, with less than eight percent of the population having an affordable and reliable high-speed Internet connection.

Bhutan has not been able to capitalise on the growing information technology (IT) sector, let alone make profit out of it. While measures are in place to promote e-governance in the country, poor Internet connectivity has deterred the country’s venture into the IT world.

The AP-IS is a 62-member-country-driven initiative intended to bridge the connectivity gaps and promote non-discriminatory access to ICT infrastructure for increase coverage, availability, reliability and affordability.

The initiative aims to create a seamless regional network of fibre optic cables to provide both intra-regional and intercontinental connectivity, according to the press release.

Of the many technical and professional constrains, Bhutan’s topography has added to the difficulty in providing a consistent connectivity to the customers.

The seminar will discuss similar issues faced by member countries who have agreed to the AP-IS initiative and also explore feasibilities measures.

(Dr) Yeong Ro Lee, a researcher with the National Information Society Agency of Korea said that if a country wants to bring down the cost of Internet, diversifying Internet connection routes will be indispensable to save connectivity costs.

Meaning a country with multiple connection points would receive Internet at a much cheaper rate. However, (Dr) Lee said that in order to materialise the AP-IS initiative, specific and real data from member countries are required.

The AP-IS master plan has four pillars: Connectivity, a process where effective physical network design and management across the region through inter-governmental negotiations will be required.

Traffic and network management where improvement of Internet traffic at regional, sub-regional and national levels will be developed. Promotion of resilient ICT networks to support disaster management system and ensure communication during times of disaster will also be nurtured fostered. And ultimately provide affordable access to Internet for the member countries.

The chief of ICT and development section of the UNESCAP, Atsuko Okuda said that the ICT sector in Bhutan has the potential to address the growing unemployment problem in the country.

“If Bhutan can maximise its ICT usage, it has huge potential for economic growth like the rest of the developed countries,” she said adding that this is achievable.

She said that the initiative, once it is materialised, negotiations on Internet deals could be conducted in an orderly manner. Bhutan’s dialogue with the Indian counterpart and Bangladesh on the import of Internet bandwidth could also be facilitated by a neutral body like UNESCAP.

Atsuko Okuda added that with 200 gewogs now connected with optic fibres, ICT sector in Bhutan should improve, provided the investment is utilised optimally.

The seminar is being conducted by UNESCAP and the Department of IT and Telecom.

Younten Tshedup