For years some of the remotest corners of the country had no access to television and depended mainly on the radio and local leaders for information about what was happening outside their villages.
According to data collected by the Department of Local Government in March 2020, there were 39,461 households in rural Bhutan without BBS TV connectivity, out of which 10,543 homes had TV sets but no BBS connectivity.
Samtse Dzongkhag had the highest number of households not connected to BBS, while Bumthang had the lowest.
However, in 2020 the Department of Information and Media started installing Ku-band dishes through the South Asia Satellite to create an informed society that is inclusive of rural and urban areas.
Ku-band is installed in remote places, unreached by cable television.
According to a press release from DoIM, access to information and media has improved considerably since then. People have access to BBS Channels, including BBS channel three, which is digital and focuses on educational programmes.
It states that the launch of the SAS and the subsequent establishment of the ground station in 2019 has enabled BBS signals to reach the entire country. Starting July 2020, about 11,589 rural households have been connected with the BBS through Ku-band installations. “About 8,351 households are connected to BBS through Ku-band dish TV during the 2020-21financial year.”
As of February 26, about 3,238 households are connected to BBS through Ku-band dish TV in rural areas by the three permit holders beginning this fiscal year.
The press release states that DoIM, in collaboration with the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), has been working on this initiative since July 2020. BICMA has licensed four Ku-band permit holders to procure and install Ku-band dishes and accessories. “Dzongkhags have been connected with permit holders to ensure efficiency and to ensure accountability.”
It states that local cable operators were asked to expand cable television networks beyond their designated areas using Ku-band dishes.
Besides, it states that BICMA and DoIM constantly monitor the price and charges levied to the rural households to supply and install Ku-band equipment and installations.
According to residents in Bumdeling, Trashiyangtse, the community had no access to television for years. The locals received essential information and news from BBS radio and gewog officials.
The gewog, however, has been connected with the Ku-band dish recently, and the people are enjoying the service. “The quality is superb. We get the news related to Covid-19 and the government’s decisions promptly,” a resident said.
They paid Nu 6,000 as an installation charge.
But some households could not repair the dishes they installed two years ago, that were destroyed by wind.
According to Sonam from Jamkhar, Trashiyangtse, he hasn’t watched TV and listened to news for the last six months as his dish broke down. He said that information was essential during the unprecedented time.
Gakiling Gup Wang Tshering said that most locals could not afford dishes and television, which is why they remain cut-off. But he said that those with dishes installed were watching without any hindrance.
As BBS connectivity has become imperative to enable citizens to access timely and accurate information, announcements and entertainment, the programmes are transmitted through terrestrial and satellite platforms.
The analogue cable platform is the largest network that carries BBS signals. With the help of the two multi-service operators-NetCom Bhutan MSO and DrukMSO, cable television is going digital while improving access.
The last day for digitising cable television as per DoIM is December 2022. It states that the switch to digitisation will enable customers to view better quality programmes. “BBS 1 and 2 are in the process of upgrading their studios and equipment to digital as they will have to go digital as well.”