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In this 21st Century, digital right is nothing short of a fundamental right because digitalization has become a necessity and part of our governance, democracy and democratic values, commerce, private and personal affairs. Therefore, good digital connectivity, reliable and affordable internet and secure cyberspace must be recognized as our legal rights. 

During the National Day, 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.” 

The recent introduction of 5G Services in selected places is something worth taking note of as we catch up with the rest of the world and will be essential to take advantage of these new technologies highlighted by His Majesty. However, the overall internet connectivity, reliability and affordability and secure cyberspace remain a serious challenge in Bhutan. If these challenges are not addressed promptly, the digital divide will be too wide. Globally, studies have found that “even though there has been significant progress in the worldwide use of the Internet, an ITU report, says that only half of the world’s population (3.9 billion) is online.” And remaining half of the global population is still offline and most “of this is in the developing countries. It is highly likely that most of the people offline are in rural areas.” Bhutan is no exception. Many pockets of our country still suffer from poor connectivity and exorbitant prices of internet use.  Bhutan remains the most expensive in the region when it comes to digital affordability and connectivity remains the poorest.  

During the National Day, His Majesty warned that “what deeply concerns me is whether our people will be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities. Or if we will be left behind due to our inability to adapt.” The opportunity to take advantage of modern technologies will largely depend on the accessibility or connectivity, reliability, and affordability of these technologies. With the introduction of 5G, the use of such technology requires almost every mobile user to upgrade our phones and devices to 5G capable gadgets. Otherwise, the service will remain a dream for many, and opportunities lost in the process. But how many can afford to purchase 5G capable devices in the country? 

A World Bank study found that “not only did mobile internet improve welfare but its effects were larger for those households that were exposed a longer period to areas with a good signal” and there is a significant reduction in poverty due to digital connectivity as high as 7 percentage points after two or more years of digital connectivity.” The study recommends that the state must put in place a policy framework that supports the expansion of mobile broadband networks, especially in rural and remote areas including affordability and digital skills to fully benefit from digital technologies. 

 Therefore, policymakers and legislatures must ensure “greater access to devices for average citizens, improve the skills to make use of the devices” safely and securely. Providing tax incentives on mobile devices and continuous digital literacy  must be initiated immediately.   Unless there is state intervention, the 5G services will be confined to a small section of the society – more fortunate citizens creating a digital rich and poor society. 

 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

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