Meeting between DITT and DoT

Price is the final barrier for Bhutan’s Third International Gateway

Most internet connections had snapped without this gateway during Cyclone Amphan

Following the destruction cased by Cyclone Amphan in Kolkata, Bhutan saw its largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) Bhutan Telecom crash out on 21st May evening with no internet lines until the next day on 22nd May.

The second largest ISP Tashi Cell was also impacted as its main line, also coming through Kolkata, went down and T-Cell users got slow internet.

The above happened because 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.

This is also what three elected governments since 2011 where trying to prevent making multiple requests to India on allowing Bhutan to have a third international gateway through its soil from Bangladesh so that there is a back up, whenever the first and second gateways through Siliguri go down. The last follow upon this was in November 2019 from Bhutan’s side as the issue was that the prices being asked by the Indian telecom companies to get this third gateway from Bangladesh to Bhutan over just 100 km was around double the rate being charged for the current two gateways through Siliguri and also more than triple of what Bangladesh was giving it at to India.

Indian Telcos got it 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.

The turmoil caused by the downing of the internet lines to all segments of the Bhutanese society during Amphan led to the Indian Embassy organizing a meeting between 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 talking point of the meeting was on reducing prices. Some solutions were put forth. 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 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 are 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.

According to the latest information, the DoT is supposed to have talked to PGCIL and there may a reduction in rates by PGCIL, but this is yet to be confirmed. What also complicates the issue is that while the Indian Telcos blame PGCIL, the exact pricing structure is not known.

Another option for Bhutan is to get an independent line from Bangladesh and then get Indian permission to bring that line across, however, the unofficial feedback from the Indian side is that this would be much more complicated and take more time and so the route of using Indian Telcos is more favored.

Another issue adding to the cost factor according to Indian Telcos is a gateway that has to be built in India as per their regulations.

Bhutan may request the GoI to take up the cost of building this exit gateway to reduce the cost.

Another cost factor could also be due to the involvement of multiple entities within Bangladesh that adds to the cost and this is where discount from Bangladesh is being sought.

The third gateway is not only important to ensure a back up connection for Bhutan during natural disasters, but it is also an essential requirement for Bhutan’s IT Industry as international IT companies want to first know if Bhutan has redundancy or a back up line separated by at least 100 kilometers from each other.

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