Improvement needed in ICT coverage and quality in rural gewogs

Though there is internet connectivity and mobile network in almost all the gewogs in the country, there is still space for improvement. With ICT in place, rural fold get easier access to services.

Dorokha Drungpa Karma Jurmi, said that ICT plays a vital role in rural areas as mobile network and internet connectivity had made life much easier and convenient. He shared that they need not have to deploy messengers like in the past years which are challenging as the messenger has to travel days and days to just reach a copy of letter to the destination.

He said, “Now with ICT in place the information could be reached to the destination within the blink of an eye, unless there is no internet connectivity. We could also communicate the government policy and monitor the activities using ICT today. We can keep ourselves updated though being in a very remote place.”

In a way, he said that ICT is bringing everything together and much closer. They do not feel distant and with the help of ICT they are able to get any required information at the click of button. Before ICT was in place, just to get any information they had to travel to the Dzongkhag center and to other places where there are resources, he added.

However, he said that every coin has two sides and it is same with ICT as they face various associated challenges at times. During harsh monsoon season there are lot of disturbances to the mobile network and internet connectivity whereby they remain cut off, he said.

He said, “During those times we become handicapped as we are used to relying on ICT. We forget to get our work done in hardcopy whereby we become handicap once the connectivity is off for sometime.”

He also said that in the far away gewogs, there is always a network fluctuation and they have to wait and communicate according to the weather condition. Now, having a Chipoen (messenger) in rural areas has been abolished and therefore they just wait for network connectivity. Still then they are in the process of installing the towers it is improving from year to year.

In gewogs and schools, they have poor internet connectivity as connection is through fiber optic wires and therefore there is internet disruption. Sometime the internet connectivity is not reliable.

Though they have the internet connectivity they still face problems due to poor and unreliable connectivity. “They either have to come to Drungkhag or go to Dzongkhag center to avail the service and this sometime hampers the daily program in school.” he added.

“Now we being in the ICT world we need to train people to use various gadgets and to use the information in more healthy ways. Giving them the education on ICT usage is more important because there is every chance of misusing the information and services at times,” he added.

In addition, he said that students in rural schools need to have access to the internet.

Dorokha Gup Padam Bdr. Rai said, “We have 6 chiwogs of which Malonggang-Thulunggang is one chiwog of which hardly 20 percent of the total population has mobile network and that too they have to go to certain location to get the network. So having to contact people or a Tshogpa of that particular chiwog has really become an issue.”

They have informed the the Department of Information and Technology about the issue and the need for having a network in that chiwog. When they cannot contact the chiwog it is difficult to do any work related to the chiwog. The rest of the five chiwogs have 90 Percent of network coverage, he said.

At gewog level though they all have ICT facilities, it still remains challenging due to various factors, he said, adding that having to submit the entire gewog development documents online is delayed by hours and sometime for few days due to poor or no internet connectivity.

Work which needs to be done immediately gets halt due to such issues and frequent light cut off adds to no internet connectivity whereby they have to find other means like a mobile hotspot to submit the document on time, he said.

There were situations whereby people from faraway places who came to avail the ICT service in the Community Center had to wait for a long time due to no internet connectivity. People come usually to print their family tree and when they fail to get the service on time people tend to get frustrated. However, they do understand the situation, he added.

They communicate through social media to pass any message or information at the earliest. In 21st Century, ICT plays an important role, he said, adding that it is , therefore, mandatory to have proper internet connectivity at the gewog level to get the work done on time and to also provide better services to the people.

“Knowing the current scenario, people from Chiwogs do contact our office about the availability before coming to avail the service from CC,” he said.

Likewise, Denchukha Gup C.B Bhandari shared that ICT plays an important role in rural gewogs because people come to the CC to avail all the services like applying for NOC, documentation, photocopy, birth certificate, etc.

He said that there is not much issue with the mobile network, however, he said the internet connectivity keeps fluctuating whereby they sometime lose connectivity for hours and sometimes for a few days.

“We use the internet service in the CC because the internet connectivity in the gewog center is very poor though we do not know why. To do any official work online the connectivity should be fast whereas in our case we have a very low internet speed”, he added.

With low internet speed it is difficult to do any urgent official work. They do contact the two network service provider but the issue remains the same. Moreover, the electricity gets cut off quite frequently and during those times, they have another difficulty. To send a document they sometime have to wait a day for electricity.

He said that electricity is another factor of having poor internet connectivity whereby they fail to do any official work which needs to be done immediately.

“We do not have any other alternative but we try to connect with mobile hotspot and do the work based on priority. We do need fast internet connectivity in mobile if we want to use mobile hotspot otherwise it does not work,” he said.

They sometime go to school and BHUs to avail any ICT services. “The government is doing its best, however, further improvement needs to be done by improving the speed of the internet so that they can do any work without any difficulty”, he said.

Meanwhile, Thinley Phelgay, Assistant Engineer of Dorokha Drunkhag said that ICT related issues has been always there in the Drunkhag as Dorokha is in the southern side of Bhutan where weather is the main factor for poor services.

He said, “In winter, the internet connectivity is reliable, it’s just that the bandwidth of the internet is low which makes the connectivity slow. We use hotspot as another alternative to provide the service to the people who come to Drungkhang.”

In the past the internet connectivity was reliable as the connection were lease-line provided by Bhutan Telecom. He said, “Whereas when it came under the Department of Information and Technology (DIT), the Drungkhag is sharing internet connectivity from gewogs through optic fiber connectivity. When we have urgent things to do online, the internet connectivity will be cut off from the gewog center as the main switch is in the gewog.”

With all those issues, they have complaint to DIT whereby now the switch has been shifted to Drungkhag office and made it more convenient. Officials said that the main issue is if they can increase the bandwidth of the internet and if the number of manpower in terms of ICT officers is enhanced.

Tashicholing Drungpa Tshewang Tobgyel said that though they have the ICT services in rural areas, improvement is a must as all the work are done online in this century. “Having poor network itself is a challenging. And if the Ministry can provide us with ICT staff in Drungkhag level we can provide better service to the people and on time”, he added.

The story was supported by the DoIM content grant.

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