– recommends improving communication 

Yangyel Lhaden 

Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has to step up in its regulatory role and set up a grievance redressal mechanism to be responsive to customer complaints, according to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The PAC’s examination of Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) report on the Performance Audit Report on implementation and management of National Broadband Fiber Network pointed out that BICMA was ineffective with regulating services assessment for broadband services and evaluation of whether actual data quota for broadband and mobile services is provided to the customers.

The report also pointed out there was no grievance redressal mechanism institution at BICMA to handle complaints from customers.

Sarpang National Council (NC) MP Anand Rai said that holding agencies accountable if they failed to perform their duties was discussed thoroughly in the previous session. “The PAC clearly states BICMA failed to perform its mandate.”

He said that if BICMA is not held accountable, then what guarantee is there that the authority will perform and fulfil its mandate?

Gasa’s NC member Dorji Khandu said that increasing internet charges is a burden to the public. The government has pledged free Wi-Fi; therefore, it was time to at least provide subsidies for internet charges.

He said that Bhutan Telecom (BT) should focus on benefiting the public rather than making a profit. “When BT lowers its data package costs, the cost of internet with TashiCell will naturally drop.”

Anand Rai said that BICMA is a body to regulate internet charges and that the rising cost of internet charges reflects that BICMA has failed.

Drametse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that BICMA should monitor the efficiency and services provided by cable operators.

Chukha NC Sangay Dorji said that cable television services are provided to the public, but when the regulatory body does not assess the quality of the services, service is impeded. “The reality is that there is no cable television in remote villages and the quality overall is poor.”

Information and Communications Minister Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi said that BICMA set up a grievance centre on their website, and the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) carried out a survey in collaboration with BICMA to find out how many people did not have access to BBS. “Whatever BICMA can do, they are doing, and they have also reduced the broadband rate.”

Lyonpo said that in the country about 40,000 people did not have access to BBS, but about 30,000 people did not own a television set. “We have provided access to BBS to the remaining 10,000.”

To provide a variety of TV channels, a multi-service provider (MSP) was formed, which is like an association of cable operators to buy TV channels, Lyonpo added. “The MSP will help cable operators gather volume to get a variety of TV channels.”

The PAC pointed out there was inadequate release of operation and maintenance funds by the Department of Information Technology and Telecom which resulted in an access release of Nu 29.889 million to Bhutan Power Corporation, no comprehensive domestic fibre network redundancy established and limited international internet redundancy, and lack of a mechanism to ensure the sustainability of allocating fibres to gewog centres, among others.

Therefore, the PAC recommended putting in place adequate infrastructure for e-resilience and speeding up the establishment of the third Internet gateway through Bangladesh.  The committee asked MoIC to frame a strategy to ensure the sustainability of fibre resources and put systems in place to ensure monitoring controls, diligence, and oversight.

Lyonpo said that the National Broadband Fiber Network to achieve e-resilience was an important component of the Digital Drukyul Flagship Programme. “We have completed three internet rings and two are underway.” The five internet rings will cover seven dzongkhags.

Lyonpo said that with a government-initiated network through the broadband fibre network and third international gateway would ensure e-resilience. “We cannot say when the third international gateway from Bangladesh will be established but work is underway and is making good progress.”