Govt pushing ISPs for better service and lower prices
The country’s two largest Internet Service Providers (ISP) Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell are both in the process of enhancing their internet bandwidth in a major way.
This is after the government since 2017 has been encouraging the two ISP’s to buy more bandwidth from outside with the aim of increasing the speed of internet in the country and at the same time bring down prices to make it more affordable.
Bhutan Telecom (BT) until recently only had 6.2 GBP which it was buying in two separate lines from Airtel and Tata in India.
The BT MD said that this is now being more than tripled to 22 GB by the coming week.
BT currently has around 590 lease line customers and around 380,000 mobile phone collections.
The Tashi Cell MD Tashi Tshering also said that the plan of Tashi Cell is to double the current 3 GB they buy from outside to 6 GB within this year. He said that within the next one month it will be increased to 4 GB. Tashi Cell ahs around 500 lease line subscribers and around 250,000 mobile connections. The MD said of this around 150,000 to 170,000 use the internet on their phone.
Not only that but both ISP providers are also drastically bringing down prices for internet data. Tashi Cell starting from this year doubled the amount of data it was giving in all its plans. Similarly, BT also started giving double the data in its 699 broadband plan. There have already been reductions in voice calls from both companies.
The BT MD admitted that his company’s decision to enhance internet bandwidth and also bring down prices has been due to the requests made by the government especially through the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC).
He said that the government objective is to make it more affordable and also ensure better connectivity.
The MoIC secretary Dasho Karma W Penjor in meeting with the Telecom and Broadband Committee on 8th January reminded the ISP’s to further decrease internet packages following the price reduction for mobile calls.
The Secretary also told the ISPs that recent BICMA directives do not allow for ‘contention ratio’ by ISPs for data packages.
This basically means that ISPs in the country cannot supply the same 1 MB of internet bandwidth to different people with the expectation that they use it at different times. For example, two people may subscribe to 1 MB bandwidth each in a lease line but the ISP provider can decide to share 1 MB each among them instead of giving the subscribed 2 MBs.
In other countries this practice has led to slow internet and even congestion especially during peak hours when the same users all come online to use that same internet package.
There is strong suspicion that certain ISPs in Bhutan could be allowing contention ratio given that there is a drastic drop in internet speed during peak hours.
On 9th January BICMA in fact issued a notification to all 10 ministries, Dzongkhags, Thromdes and autonomous agencies saying that ISPs are directed to issue the right bandwidth as per the packages subscribed without imposing any contention ratio. It says that lease-line users must get the exact bandwidth as per its subscription.
BICMA says that to ensure such services are provided by ISPs BICMA would like to seek the respective agencies support in carrying out monitoring of speed and sharing the information with BICMA.
Apart from internet BICMA in consultation with MoIC is hiring an independent expert to verify the telecom data given by Telecom companies for quality of calls and call drops. The expert is expected to be here by March. In addition to this the regulatory body is also purchasing equipment to enable it to monitor the quality of calls from areas where complaints are made.
The Chief Communication Officer heading the Licensing and Compliance Division, Wangay Dorji said that now that all the telecom infrastructure has been set up, BICMA is focusing more on consumer rights and protection.
He said that in short people should be getting what they paid for and if there are any complaints they should not hesitate to approach BICMA. He said that an investigation would be done and if the ISP or telecom providers are found guilty then necessary fines and legal action would be taken against them.
Wangay said that there would be zero tolerance on telecom and ISP related issues.
The government though the MoIC has been making a major push especially since 2017 given the number of complaints people have been making through the media and social media on call drops, poor connection, slow internet etc.
The strategy is that with the government launching a slew of e-services and with the potential of an e-economy, the internet and phone connections should be both affordable and of good quality.