and IT in Bhutan
Bhutanese are using the internet (2002)
number of subscribers to Druknet, Bhutan's ISP provider, has increased
nine-fold since its launch in June 1999. Today there 926 dial-up
subscribers throughout Bhutan up from about a 100 two years ago. Druknet
hopes to reach the 1,000 mark by the end of this year. The actual
number of dial-up connection users, Druknet officials say, could be over
get an average 25- 30 new customers every month," said Druknet's Jichen
Thinley. "And going by the trend we have not yet reached the saturation
point." About six cancel subscriptions every month, usually expatriates
leaving the country. 'Internet lite' is the most popular internet package
offered by druknet with 521 subscribers. Internet lite offers a 15-hour
access at Nu 1000 a month.
offers infotech solutions
in eastern Bhutan. Private home connections at homes are still few because
most Bhutanese homes do not have computers.Infotech solutions which opened
the first internet cafe in Thimphu in 1999 also started with an 'internet
lite' package. Today it has two other packages of a 160 hours a month to
cater to the growing number of local users. "When we started it was mostly
foreigners who used the net during the tourist season," said Jasmeeth of
Infotech Solutions. "Nowadays seven to eight students visit us everyday
to send emails and sometimes to chat." The cafe charges Nu 2.5 a minute
to use the net. Students and business people were also their main customers
according to the Bhutan Post's internet cafe in-charge at the Taktsang
building. "The cafe is not doing a roaring business but we make enough
to cover subscription costs.
too, is not making any revenue at this stage. "We earn about Nu 2 million
a month and about Nu 1.3 million is paid for the two upstream links and
the Intel SAT segment charge," said Jichen Thinley. "The balance goes into
salaries and maintenance costs." He said that druknet would need at least
2,000 dial-up subscriber to become sustainable. Druknet officials are optimistic
that the subscribers base will expand further. "Many educated parents want
their children to be computer literate and now computers are tax free,"
said Jichen Thinley. " If the financial institutions can provide a loan
package to provide computers the number of subscribers is bound to increase."
Meanwhile about 14 government and private organisations have dedicated
'lease line' connections which has a fixed fee of Nu 40,000 a month. Druknet
estimates lease line connections to have about a 1000 users. Internet usage
is, however, concentrated in the Thimphu region. For example more than
50 percent of dial-up subscribers are in the Thimphu region. The Gelephu
region has the lowest with only 17 dial-up subscribers. Again of the 14
lease line connections 12 are in the Thimphu. The other two are Sherubtse
College in Kanglung, Trashigang and the Mongar Referral.
Internet in official communication - Worshops in IT basic skills
facilities like internet and intranet are still new to many civil servants
working in the remote dzongkhags. Of the 20 officials participating
in a workshop organized as part of the UNDP project on information network
for good governance, only about five have had access to internet
prior to the workshop. The workshop was held with an aim to support
the dzongkhag planning offices. The participants were taught the basic
skills of E-mail and Web, MS Word and Power point, all indispensable for
information exchange once the planning secretariat starts using its newly
launched intranet (called PCS Intranet) as a communication channel.
With efficient information exchange, dzongkhags can feed information or
update data professionally while the secretariat can analyze or compare
them with others. With computer skills and facilities, the rudimentary
and manual method would be replaced with latest IT devices to make information
Once the planners are introduced to the PCS Intranet
and trained in its application, any report or data from the dzongkhags
will be fed to the PCS Intranet server and made accessible both through
intranet and the internet. Most ministries, organisations and even researchers
depend on the information PCS Intranet server provide. "As such, it is
high time that the crude time-consuming ways of reporting from the dzongkhags
are done away with. IT would help dzongkhag sector heads in providing the
most reliable information and enhance effective communication between dzongkhags
and headquarters. Lacking facilities, many dzongkhag staff are computer
illiterate affecting the efficiency and the reporting system.
80 interested dzongkhag staff in Trashigang registered for the workshop
but, because of lack of computer facilities, only 20 were given the opportunity.
"With a technology so advanced, we can save time, money and energy if given
daily access," said a dzongkhag staff. The project donated two computers
with internet facilities to the Trashigang dzongkhag administration.
as net-savvy geeks in Thimphu download and upload multimedia files on the
World Wide Web, more than 80% of the country's population has never heard
a dial tone. License records maintained by the ministry of trade and industry
give a stark scenario. Out of the 45 IT related licenses issued by the
ministry so far, 80 percent of the businesses are located in Thimphu.In
many parts of Bhutan, people continue to lead lives as they did centuries
Most villages do not have electricity and telephones, the basic building
blocks of IT. "The gap between the information haves and have-nots is wide,"
the systems administrator at Bhutan Telecom said. "The number of people
having access to computers and Internet are certainly increasing but only
in the urban centers, primarily in Thimphu and Phuentsholing."He says the
government should reduce the IT gap by stepping up computer education and
literacy programmes.Others think the digital divide is essentially a result
of the language barrier. They say it will disappear once Dzongkha is integrated
into the Windows operating system
to have internet connection
year 10 remote communities in Dagana dzongkhag will have Internet connections,
through an agreement signed between the International Telecommunication
Union (ITU), the royal government, and Bhutan Telecom. The Director of
the Telecommunication Development Bureau of ITU, Mr. Hamadoun I. Toure,
the Information and Communication Minister, Lyonpo Leki Dorji, and Director
of Department of Aid and Debt Management, Nima Wangdi, signed the agreement
after a two-day seminar on e-governance jointly hosted by ITU and the ministry
ITU committed US$ 413,500 of the total cost of US$ 1,654,879 for the low
cost based IP telephony network under a ICT infrastructure project. Bhutan
Telecom will bear the remaining cost of US$ 1,241,379 from internal sources,
a press release from Bhutan Telecom said. The ITU grant will be utilised
to provide equipment and expertise for the project. "We agreed on collaboration
with Bhutan Telecom to link 10 remote communities with the new IP telephonic
system and the project will, undoubtedly, be completed in another six months,"
Mr. Hamadoun Toure told Kuensel.
Director of ITU also signed another project with the Bhutan Broadcasting
Service (BBS) committing to assist in a nation wide television coverage
service. "We discussed the challenges the BBS is facing in reaching its
television service throughout the country," he said. "We agreed upon the
satellite solution that will give a quick national coverage for BBS television."
"The project would cost about US$ 300,000 to start and ITU will commit
50 percent of it from January next year while the rest will be borne by
ITU's plans for Bhutan, the Director also mentioned a major project due
with Bhutan Post to initiate e-post. In collaboration with the ITU, International
Postal Union, and Ministry of Information and Communications, Bhutan Post
will reach postal services with internet facilities to remote villages
that remain completely cut-off for about six months around the year. "Bhutan
was under our special programme of Least Developed Countries (LDC) last
year where we took the opportunity to put real emphasis to put Bhutan under
the spot light for donor agencies," he said. "We sought to portray that
Bhutan had good governance and no corruption especially when compared to
many other countries around the world or in Asia." On information and communication
technology, the Director said Bhutan was comparatively far behind and there
was a lot to do. "That is the reason why we are very eager and we are assisting
Bhutan every time because the leaders know what they want," he said.
Information and Communications Minister, Lyonpo Leki Dorji, said ITU's
rural development project with Bhutan Telecom would connect a lot of the
country's remote pockets and bring them into the main stream of development.
The assistance to BBS would enable remote viewers to access the BBS television
networks. "We have come a long way in the last 40 years in improving the
quality of lives of our people but there is still a lot to do to develop
information and communication technology services required by the people,"
he said. "We still have to move towards broader broad bands capability,
develop content relevant to our people which is available and easily accessible,
and take the e-governance concept forward." He said with the Bhutan Information
and Communication Technology Policy and Strategy (BIPS) just about formulated
it was timely to proceed with e-governance. "If we want a transparent,
efficient, and responsive government, then e-governance is the solution,"
he said. The minister acknowledged the assistance from ITU in human resource
development and rural development projects.
by Bishal Rai, Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper, 2002 and 2004