The wait for free WiFi and Sungjoen App

As people wait for the free WiFi and the Sungjoen App, which the government has promised to provide, Information and Communications Minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi, stated that the ministry will not be blinded by political commitments, and will not push for such programs if they do not benefit the country.

“We are trying our best and working on it. But we will see whether it is really going to benefit the people. We will not be swayed by political gain,” the Information and Communications Minister said.

The Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) has conducted a thorough review of the availability of free WiFi and the development of the Sungjoen App.

The main goal of the effort is to improve online public services, such as government-to-citizens (G2C), business-to-business (B2B), and business-to-consumers (B2C), making systems more responsive, simple, and efficient for the citizens. It is meant to increase access to information, encourage research, and provide better access to local material.

Free public WiFi

According to the State of the Nation report, the ministry has finalized a mixed-mode deployment of free public WiFi hotspots through Starlink services in rural regions and local ISPs in urban areas after consulting with the Cabinet and Members of Parliament.

Through local ISPs, the ministry proposes to install at least one Starlink WiFi hotspot in each of the 1,044 chiwogs and 100 WiFi hotspots in urban areas. For a period of five years, the project is expected to cost Nu 2.930 billion (bn).

Towards implementation of the free public WiFi proposal, the ministry has proposed for allowance of around 3,000 Starlink user terminals in the country for both free public WiFi, and interested private users, establishment of Starlink Gateway, Starlink to be allowed as an FDI in the ICT sector (ISP) as required by the Information Communications and Media Act of Bhutan 2018, and Starlink to be allowed as a 100 percent FDI company as it differs from what the FDI Policy 2019 spells.

The proposal is currently being reviewed and updated by the ministry. On July 2020, the presentation to the Cabinet took place. On this, the ministry is awaiting additional instructions.

Sungjoen App

The ministry has initiated the design of the Sungjoen App for the domestic consumers in order to compete with foreign instant messaging apps like WeChat or WhatsApp, and video conference platforms like Zoom.

As per the State of the Nation report, the app will be updated in the future to serve as a universal modular platform, with functions such as making or receiving payments, G2C services, and government notifications/ announcements, among others, being added.

The ministry wants to involve local entrepreneurs and ICT start-ups in the app development process. Towards this, the ministry will select the best bidders through an open competition system. The first five shortlisted bidders will be provided with Nu 1 million each as seed money to develop the initial Proof of Concept.

The report stated that the three finalists will be chosen based on their ability to demonstrate solutions to create a Proof of Scale (ability to handle user numbers in the country) and would be allocated Nu 3 million each.

Following this, the first bidder to acquire 10,000 user accounts will be chosen as the App developer, and Nu 10 million will be awarded as the prize money along with the operating license towards completing all necessary features of the Sungjoen App.

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