The Article 7 of our Constitution recognises the right to life, liberty, security, freedom of thought, right to information and, the freedom of press, including electronic; and right to vote as the fundamental right. In 21st century, all these rights are directly affected by the internet and how we interact in the virtual world. The governance, economic, finance, medicine, justice and even social norms and cultures are going virtual and relies heavily on technology. Therefore, the right to internet must be recognised as the fundamental right. The news of Bhutan being one of the most expensive and unreliable internets is not acceptable. Our two telecos shall not use excuses of network congestion or over usage to justify the current network problems as they hold the monopoly over the entire internet in the country for over decades now.

Highlighting the importance of internet, during the 114th National Day last year, His Majesty said: “Blockchain, Fintech, Quantum Computing, Artificial Reality, Virtual Reality, Metaverse, Robotics, Machine Learning and Web 3.0 are just some of the rapid and sweeping changes brought about by technological advancements that we are beginning to see. Breakthroughs in nanotech, biotech and genomics will transform the future. What deeply concerns me is whether our people will be able to take advantage of these opportunities. Or if we will be left behind due to our inability to adapt.”

International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported that in 2020, Bhutan remains one of the most expensive in terms of affordability of internet, both mobile and broadband. ITU states that “affordability will remain a key barrier to connectivity, especially in lower income countries and in lower income segments of the population in countries around the world.”

On the other hand, both the two telecos in recent times have been vigorously pursuing the sale of a few brands of their choice and offer unlimited late-night data on mobile phones. These schemes are without doubt targeted to cater to our young people and most users are younger people. Psychological pediatricians have descried that “since the child’s brain is still in the development stage, exposure to blue light produced by smartphones and various other gadgets disturb their internal body clock to a huge extent.” Various research indicate that sleep deprivation of children will cause irreversible damage to their brains, affect appetite, cause mood swings, depression, irritability, and inability to focus, obesity and aggressiveness. Further, such unlimited late-night internet can violate numerous consumer rights including protection of lives, health and safety, a physical environment. 

TashiCell advertises Galaxy Z Fold 3 as saving Nu 34,009 from Nu179,999 to Nu 145,990, and similar schemes are there. But how true such information needs a review.  Section 7 of CPA prohibits the misleading indication of price.  Does such advertisement mislead indication of price? The CPA also prohibits “unfair trade practices and unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.”  

Doesn’t vigorous pursuance of selected phones with some bonus to attract more consumer amount to consumer exploitation?

Foreseeing the possible digital divide if the internet is unaffordable, His Majesty warned that “unequal access to knowledge and technology will create greater disparities in education, opportunities and wealth.”  Therefore, institutions like Bhutan Information and Communication Authority, Ministry of Information and Communications must review the existing practices of these telecos. Our telecos must stop possible exploitation of consumers and instead make internet affordable and reliable in this century. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.