Phub Dem

The Association of Bhutan’s Cable Operators (ABCO) proposed to postpone the deadline for digitisation of analogue cable until next year due to the delays caused by consistent lockdown for the last two years, difficulty in procuring equipment during the lockdown, and financial issues.

The association’s proposed a new deadline after Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) announced switching cable services in the country to digital by the end of this year.

The cable operators cited challenges of completing the work on time due to the prolonged lockdown and reluctance to switch to digital TV in the rural areas, among others.

Although the operators are working tirelessly to complete the work on time, the association is of the stand that local operators are worried about the deadline.

According to the general secretary of the Association of Bhutanese Cable Operators  (ABCO), Sherub Gyeltshen, the deadline for the completion will be ambitious considering the delay caused by the lockdown. “The operators are also in haste to complete the work considering conveniences, but in case we fail to meet the target, we request for consideration for a year”

Considering the economic condition of the country, he said that it was difficult for the local cable operators to execute the work without any assistance.

The LCOs say that there should be provision for access to finance from the financial institutions and the government for the cable operators. “In the meantime, we are approaching financial institutions and national CSI bank for credit access.”

Sherub Gyeltshen said that some gewogs do not have a connection to telecom infrastructures, impeding the completion of digitization on time.

Besides, some operators are facing issues due to financial constraints.

Despite the cable being a critical service, especially during the pandemic, it still faces significant challenges, he said.

Moreover, the association claims that the licence holder of Ku-band dishes is misusing their permit and entering the licence cable market. He said that as the subscription to Ku-band dish is free, cable users are switching to Ku-band.

He said that there are still many households in rural areas who are still reluctant to switch to digital, adding that the users still want to use the analogue system to manipulate the subscribers and pay for only one TV.

According to BICMA director, Jigme Wangdi, except for areas where there is no fibre connection, digitisation is almost complete, adding that there are around 15 cable operators in remote areas who were unable to switch. He said that these areas were impossible to connect to due to the absence of telecom infrastructure. “Such situations could be considered.”

He added that further delay of the digitisation was not healthy, adding that the operators still have more than seven months to complete the work where there is telecom infrastructure. “It is too early to decide whether a work could be incomplete before the time frame.”

Jigme Wangdi said that digitization was essential in acquiring the exact number of television users in the country and collecting the revenue. “Every TV would have a set-up box. This data is important because it allows what policy intervention is required and avoids tax evasion.”

The authority has not received an official proposal from local cable operators.


Multiservice operator

As per the multi-service operator, NetCom, while most of the local cable operators have digitalised their cable TV signals, there are still many subscribers who are still watching analogue signals (without having to use a set-top box).

Chief executive officer of NetCom, Khampa, said that some rural subscribers are not able to afford set-top boxes and some LCOs were yet to digitalize their system. “LCOs are still providing both analogue and digital signals.”

The MSO have close to 50,000 subscribers using digital set-top boxes in almost all major urban areas in 20 dzongkhags and most of the gewogs. It has about 65 LCOs.

However, Khampa said that not all subscribers of the LCOs used the set-top box to watch TV. “Many still are watching analogue signals across the country.”

While MSO’s main purpose is to distribute the digital TV channels to the LCOs operating with ICT licences, MSO is unable to get access to the national fibre. Khampa said that the government has consistently denied access to fibre citing policy roadblocks and other reasons.

MSO is routing the signals through the P2P bandwidth service of Bhutan Telecom and LCOs have to pay for using their service, adding cost to the services. But he said that the monthly subscription fee of Nu 300 has remained unchanged since the early 2000s.

As interconnecting LCOs in remote areas do not have bandwidth services operators face significant challenges in digitising their network because of the high cost of investment in networking and digital systems, and there might be a delay in digitizing on time.

There are 96 cable operators in the country and two multi-service operators (MSO).