The cost of the internet in Bhutan is among the highest in Asia.

For instance, in India, the average cost of one gigabyte (GB) of data is approximately USD 0.09, while in Nepal it stands at about USD 0.60. In contrast, the cost in Bhutan is significantly higher, averaging around USD 1.25 per GB.

This quick cost comparison is an eye opening revelation of how much more Bhutanese people have been shelling out for the internet all this while. The question is – is it really fair that a low-income population like ours should be paying such exorbitant prices for the internet?

Bhutan’s telecommunication market is dominated by two companies – Bhutan Telecom Limited and Tashi InfoComm Private Limited – with the former holding roughly 60% market share and the latter controlling the remaining 40%. Both these companies have consistently reported turnovers in billions, yet they have failed to substantially reduce the cost of the internet.

The duopoly, characterized by limited competition, has allowed these companies to maintain high prices. Eventually, the consumers have to bear the brunt of high costs.

The excessively expensive cost of the internet poses significant barriers to the growth of digital businesses, public service delivery, and the national objective of digital transformation in the country. As the world moves towards greater digitisation, affordable and reliable internet access is essential. High costs restrict access to digital tools and resources, limiting opportunities for education, e-commerce, and digital innovation.

For digital businesses and start-ups, the high cost of internet increases operational costs, making it difficult for local businesses to survive, let alone compete in the regional and global market. This impedes entrepreneurial growth and reduces the attractiveness of Bhutan as a destination for tech-based investments.

The high cost of the internet also directly undermines the government’s initiatives to digitalize and improve access to a wide range of government-to-citizen services. Citizens, particularly living in rural areas, find it challenging to access online services, which is widening the digital divide and affecting public service delivery.

Reducing internet cost is not just a matter of economic necessity but also a step towards digital equity in the context of our socio-economic development. By making the internet more affordable, the government will be able to facilitate broader participation in the digital economy and improve public service delivery.

During the question-answer session at the National Assembly last week, the Prime Minister was quizzed on the government’s pledge to halve the cost of data or align it with prices in India. The Prime Minister did not mince any words when he said that if the two existing telecom companies do not reduce the internet price, the government will bring in a third operator.

The third operator will increase market competition and drive down prices, benefiting consumers and businesses alike. But in the intervening period, it is essential for the telecom regulatory body to strengthen measures to ensure that the telecom companies do not misuse their market dominance to exploit the public. It is high time for the government to take decisive actions.