Monitoring lapses snag broadband fiber network master plan

And despite having positive achievements, the RAA during the course of audit observed deficiencies and short comings.

Sonam Penjor

The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) has observed lapses for performance audit on implementation and management of broadband fiber network which were largely caused due to weaknesses in monitoring controls and lack of due diligence as well as poor oversight responsibilities.

The National Broadband Master Plan project was undertaken to create a reliable and sustainable communication backbone for the country to promote level playing field for all service providers, and also to provide affordable and reliable access to ICT services for the citizens.

And despite having positive achievements, the RAA during the course of audit observed deficiencies and short comings.

According to the RAA 2020 report, the deficiencies and short coming includes the poor financial tracking was noted in the management of project fund. This has resulted in inaccurate project cost.

In addition, inadequacies in the release of Operation and Maintenance (O&M) fund by Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) had resulted in an excess release of more than Nu 29-million (m) Bhutan Power Corporation Limited (BPCL).

Lack of monitoring controls in the management of depreciation fund by DITT has led to non-deposit of more than Nu 45-m of interest accrued on the depreciation fund paid from 2011 to 2017 by BPCL and anomalies in the determination of O&M fund.

It also observed that there is no comprehensive domestic fiber optic network redundancy established as of now to ensure e-resilience in the event of disaster.

Similarly, there is limited international internet redundancy, which could lead to risk of complete internet blackout in the whole country should there be failure on the existing single gateway that passes through Siliguri.

The RAA further observed that regulatory role played by Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) in carrying out QoS assessment for broadband services and evaluation of whether actual data quota for broadband and mobile services is provided to the customers. Further, there was no grievance redressal mechanism instituted in BICMA to handle complaints from customers was very weak.

RAA also observed that there is lack of mechanism to ensure sustainability of fiber resources was noted because the current practice of allocating fibers to Gewog centers (GCs) is found to be unsustainable.

Moreover the leasing condition was not enforced to the stakeholders, Fiber Monitoring System (FMS) installed was ineffective in generating comprehensive reports for making informed decisions and it was not monitoring all the fiber strands in the fiber optic cable to detect faulty fibers.

There was lack of clear protocol on resolving internet connectivity and ICT equipment issues in GCs and community centers (CCs) resulting in disruption of services provided to the citizens by the GCs and CCs and there is no proper mechanism including guidelines or procedures instituted by DITT for disposal of fiber optic waste that has led to dumping of fiber cables and reel ends along the roadsides and at auction yard of BPCL among others.

Meanwhile, to address these lapses, the RAA has provided recommendations which include DITT should revise the existing agreement; BICMA should strengthen its regulatory functions.

DITT should take initiatives to improve the management of the national broadband fiber network; BPCL should institute measures to improve operation and maintenance of national broadband fiber network; and Ministry of Information and Communications should continue pursuing implementation of third international internet gateway and establishing the national fiber optic redundancy.

The total budget of the National Broadband Masterplan Implementation Project (NBMIP) was initially approved at Nu 654-m and funded by the Government of India (GoI) through their Project Tied Assistance (PTA).

However, over time, with the increase in scope and other important requirements, the implementation cost of the project increased to more than Nu 824-m.