Public memory is generally short, but most will still remember that Bhutan was largely without internet from 21st May evening to a large part of 22nd May 2020 when Cyclone Amphan impacted both Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell’s lines coming via Kolkata.
Both of Bhutan’s International Gateways come through Kolkata and the narrow Siliguri corridor and so any natural disaster or issues there can cut off the internet to Bhutan, which is exactly what happened then.
This has been the reason why Bhutan has been pushing for the third international gateway via Bangladesh and India since 2011 across three elected governments with not much movement on the ground despite mutiple commitments to all three governments.
From the last discussions on the mater in 30th May 2020 the main factor holding up the third gateway was price.
In this light the commitment of the Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to provide Bhutan internet bandwidth at a friendly rate will come as a big boost for Bhutan’s hopes to have a third gateway from Bangladesh.
Lyonchhen Dasho Dr. Lotay Tshering in his talks with the Bangladesh Prime Minister thanked the government of Bangladesh for its support toward the establishment of the Third International Internet Gateway and Bhutan’s proposal to purchase bandwidth from Bangladesh, which will ensure the reliability of internet and communications for Bhutan.
The joint statement said the discussions between the concerned agencies of the two governments are at an advanced stage and he expressed the hope that the two sides will soon be able to agree on a rate that is mutually acceptable.
The statement said, “As a special gesture of goodwill and friendship, and as part of the celebrations of 50 years of Bhutan’s recognition of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decided to provide Bhutan internet bandwidth at a friendly rate.”
After the widespread disruption of Amphan the Indian Embassy on May 30, 2020 had organized a conference between the the Department of Telecom of India and the the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) of Bhutan on 30th May to look for a way forward on the issue.
The main issue that came up was on the prices and three possible solutions was put forward.
One was on asking Bangladesh to reduce its price and another was to ask the Indian Telcos to reduce their high price.
The Indian Telcos on their part blamed the high price due to the high rates charged by the Indian government owned Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) on whose towers these wires are carried.
The third solution was that the Department of Telecom (DoT) of India said that it would talk to the Indian Telcos and the PGCIL to reduce prices.
Despite the request for Indian Telcos to cut costs the final bids given by the four Indian Telcos around June 2020 was still around double of the cost of the two gateways from the Siliguri corridor.
The Siliguri corridor cost is around USD 7 per MBPs and the four Indian Telcos which are Sify, BSNL, Tata and Sify are asking around double of that with rates from USD 12 to USD 14 per MBPs which would not make it viable for Bhutan.
DITT of Bhutan as a result wrote to its Indian counterparts through the Foreign Ministry asking for a break up of the costs by the Indian Telcos and also by PGICL but there has been no response.
One allegation coming from PGICL was that the cost from Bangladesh was high and so the rates came high.
DITT wanted to find out from PGICL what was the break up of the rental or carrying cost by PGICL and the rate from Bangladesh.
However, there has been no response to DITT and thus the department is still in the dark on what exactly is causing the rates to be so high.
However, an official said that the commitment from Bangladesh to give a friendly rate is a very good development and so Bhutan can once again start talking to the Indian government and various other counterparts to see how they can also reduce the price from their side for the third gateway.
The official, however, said that without the counterparts in India not giving their breakup of costs Bhutan really does not now about the Bangladesh rate given to them.
He said that the Bhutanese government does not charge its own Telcos for use of the dark fiber for internet and so he hoped that even PGCIL would be amenable to Bhutan using its dark fiber at a reduced rate.
Though not officially acknowledged, Indian Telcos get the bandwidth from Bangladesh at around Nu 600 per MBPs but wanted to sell it at Nu 2,100 per MBPs to Bhutan for just a few 100 kilometers.
This is when the Bangladesh rate incorporates thousands of kilometers of undersea cable from Singapore.