Public memory is often short, but most will recall that Bhutan was mostly without internet from 21 May evening to a big portion of 22 May 2020 when Cyclone Amphan disrupted both Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell’s connections via Kolkata.
Bhutan’s access to the Internet is routed through the International Internet Gateway in Kolkata and the small Siliguri corridor in India. As the gateway is susceptible to any natural disaster, therefore, Bhutan has been pushing for the Third International Internet Gateway via Bangladesh and India since 2011. Besides multiple commitments being made by the parties involved, not much happened on the ground.
The Third International Internet Gateway is not only vital for ensuring a backup link for Bhutan during natural catastrophes, but it is also a prerequisite for Bhutan’s IT industry, since worldwide IT businesses require Bhutan to have redundancy or a backup line separated by at least 100 kilometers.
Since 2011, the three governments have been frantically and constantly requesting India for this connection, in order to avoid the circumstance that transpired in the previous two days, when Bhutan was sent back to a pre-internet era.
Aside from the three MoIC ministers, the past and current Prime Ministers of Bhutan discussed the issue at the highest levels in India.
From the last discussions on the matter on 30 May 2020, the main factor holding up the third gateway was price.
In this context, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s willingness to offer Bhutan with internet bandwidth at a reasonable fee was a significant boost to Bhutan’s expectations for a third gateway from Bangladesh.
However, Information and Communication Minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi, stated during the Joint Session of Parliament on 15 December 2021, that while addressing the third gateway, two sorts of charges must be considered: the cost from Singapore to Bangladesh and the cost from Bangladesh to Bhutan.
Lyonpo said, “When our Prime Minister visited Bangladesh this year, he met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and discussed about the Third International Internet Gateway. In addition, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has promised to provide a special friendship rate for the Third International Internet Gateway,” and further added that the ministry is working on it, and also discussing it with relevant organizations and agencies, as well as the Indian Embassy in Bhutan.
Lyonpo added that on 3 December 2021, the Bhutanese representative in Dhaka met with the Ministry of Post and Tele Communication in Bangladesh, and the ministry is told that they will soon send an official letter, and through the Foreign Ministry, the ministry will have a discussion, and then finalize the cost for the third international gateway.
The Foreign Minister, Dr Tandi Dorji, said that the government is reliant on India and Bangladesh governments, when it comes to bringing the Internet gateway link.
Lyonpo said that Bangladesh is not an issue because they have provided Bhutan with the most competitive cost, and the problem is with Indian commercial operators, who are responsible for routing Internet cables through the country.
“Even if we speak with the Indian government, the private operator refuses, so the government is unable to make a decision on its own,” Lyonpo said.
The Public Accounts Committee recommended to speed up the establishment of the Third International Internet Gateway, and also urged that suitable and up-to-date infrastructure be put in place to safeguard the country’s e-resilience.
Connecting Bhutan to the Third International Internet link from Bangladesh is flagged as a priority in the 12th FYP. Efforts and discussions to connect Bhutan began in 2015.
The only latest development is a discounted cable rate offer from Bangladesh but matters are not yet fianlized.