Media: The Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has completed an investigation to determine where the BBS TV channel is being downlinked and then illegally included in the direct-to-home (DTH) TV packages offered by operators in India, that is being uplinked or beamed back to Bhutan.

BICMA director, Sonam Phuntsho, said that the findings of the investigation have been shared with the Dish TV Company, which is India’s largest DTH operator and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

The director did not reveal the findings of the investigation. He said the authority would wait for Dish TV and TRAI to provide their views first.

Sonam Phuntsho said that he has requested both organisations to suggest ways on how to resolve the issue at the earliest.

However, in an earlier interview, the director had said the issue may be more complex as TRAI had found that Indian facilities are not being used to downlink the BBS TV signal, raising the possibility that it is being downlinked in a third country.

However, based on the latest findings, both TRAI and the Dish TV Company have responded that they would treat the issue as a very serious one.

It is not known if BICMA has confirmed whether BBS is being downlinked in India or a third country.

While BBS is a free-to-air channel, which according to its managing director, Tshering Wangchuk, means that it can be downlinked by anyone, it is still illegal to include it in any DTH TV package. Purchasing and subscribing to DTH TV in Bhutan is still illegal despite its prevalence.

However, based on estimates by cable service providers, there at least 15,000 who are subscribed to DTH TV. The government is also aware that many in the rural areas are able to watch BBS on their DTH TV.

Tshering Wangchuk said that the broadcaster is also aware that DTH TV dishes are being labelled with the company’s name. He said that BBS had been trying to gather footage on the practise, as it wants to inform its viewers and customers that these dishes are not sold by BBS and that it does not endorse the operators selling them.

Despite BBS being a free-to-air channel, Tshering Wangchuk said that BBS is concerned about the illegal practise. “One thing we’re really concerned about is that it is illegal first and we don’t want to be implicated in this matter,” he said.

While there is no significant financial implication on BBS as a result of the practise, Tshering Wangchuk said the company shares the government’s concern about outflow of revenue. He said BBS does not want to be associated with such a situation.

According to a BICMA report published last year, there was an estimated 5,000 active subscribers of illegal DTH TV in Bhutan, which amounted to an annual income tax loss of Nu 12.1 million, and tax deducted at sources loss from monthly subscription of Nu 17.5 million.

However, cable services providers have estimated the number to be much higher, of at least 15,000 subscribers.

Information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji confirmed that TRAI and Dish TV have responded and would be taking up the matter seriously.

The secretary said that this was an example of where “crooks”, referring to those uplinking the BBS TV channel, move faster than the government. He said the inclusion of BBS TV is illegal and must be stopped.

In an earlier interview, the BICMA director had also pointed out that both TRAI and Dish TV had said that if BBS is being downlinked in India, it is without their consent.

The government is also considering its options on how it can legalise DTH TV and is expected to make a decision by the end of this month.

Gyalsten K Dorji