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.
Hospital 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.
"Druknet 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.
IT 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 readily available.
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.
About 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.
Even 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 ago.
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
Next 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 in Thimphu.
The 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.
The 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 BBS."
Highlighting 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.
The 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.