Chhimi Dema 

While the pandemic has shown the importance of information, communications and technology (ICT) as it helped people to stay connected, work and study, many internet users are unhappy with the two telecom companies for charging high data prices.

Many people also claimed the two companies did not put any effort to make internet affordable.

A Thimphu resident, Jamtsho, said the telecom companies benefited from the pandemic but refused to trickle down the benefit to end users.

He said his mobile data usage increased manifold during the pandemic than normal times. “The telecom operators have increased the data volume but the consumption is even higher.”

A civil servant, Yeshi, said he is unhappy with the service providers. “With everyone using the internet during the pandemic, the telecoms should provide reliable and affordable services.”

In an assessment of internet service quality in Bhutan carried out by Phurba Sonam Waiba, Aita Raj Limboo and Jigme Sherub, it was stated that the internet service in the country was unsatisfactory and users’ expectations of the internet services were not met.

The study was carried out last year with 384 respondents.

“The customers have high expectations for good and smooth infrastructure and connectivity lines, strong and without disturbances,” the report stated, adding that customers hope for diverse and more options to data and internet package subscriptions.

Officials from the two telecom companies said revising data cost is not easy.

TashiCell’s marketing manager, Namgay Wangchuk, said that factors such as network capacity, demand for the service, introduction of new technology, market segmentation  like introducing special data plans, and competition were considered while revising the tariff.

BTL’s marketing manager Jigme Thinley said that the tariff revision was based on cost and competitive pricing, government policy and directives of regulatory authority, market forces, and pricing of other internet service products.

“At the moment comparing prices with other countries or BTL to revise the tariff at par with them is not feasible,” he said.

Namgay Wangchuk said that internet data consumption depends on the network speed, usage by the user and default app setting.

He said that if the internet speed is good, most apps automatically tend to use higher resolution data to provide a better experience to users. “Consumption may vary for the same video watched under differing network speeds.”

He also said some apps tend to preload data to avoid buffering, which consumes data volume, explaining even when people do not watch a video completely, the data is already preloaded by the app leading to higher data consumption.

Records with TashiCell show about 30,000 mobile data are recharged in a day on average every day.

In Bhutan Telecom, 100,000 mobile data plans are recharged in a day on an average.

Meanwhile, according to the first quarterly info-comm and transport statistics (2021), there are 739,683 mobile cellular subscribers in the country as of April 2021.

Edited by Tashi Dema