TashiCell and BTL licenses nearing to an end

Bhutan Telecom Limited
Tashi Cell

Sources claim that their licenses will be renewed

KARMA CHIMI | Thimphu

The cellular operating license of Bhutan Telecom Limited (BTL) and TashiCell are due next year.  BTL’s license is due for renewal on 1 May 2023 and Tashi InfoComm Limited’s (TICL) on 1 October 2023.

Both TICL and BTL had already submitted the written request to the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) for licence renewal. 

The Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) has mentioned as per the existing license terms and conditions, the operators need to submit the written request 12 months prior to the expiry of the license to the BICMA to renew their license. 

Accordingly, the Working Group (WG), comprising members from BICMA and MoIC studied the new licensing modality and developed new license terms and conditions for Telecom Service Providers (TSP). 

The minister for MoIC Karma Donnen Wangdi said, “The ministry had presented the report of license renewal of telecom operators to the Cabinet for approval. The Cabinet has approved the proposal and the telecom license will be renewed by 2023 for both the operators respectively.”

Since both TICL and BTL have submitted their written request to BICMA to renew their license, and fulfilled their initial licensing terms and conditions, their license shall be renewed provided they agree to the new terms and conditions under the new license agreement, according to the minister. 

The minister said that both the TICL and BTL have accomplished and fulfilled all the terms and conditions mentioned in the initial license agreement. To mention a few, such as fees obligations, coverage obligations, quality of service and standards obligations.

According to the ministry, the two telecom operators are obligated to pay the timely fees. Both the telecom operators had made timely payments in the past. 

“In order to ensure the network coverage, TSPs are obliged to provide services wherever commercially feasible,” the minister said.

In areas commercially not feasible, the government has implemented the Universal Service Programmes where the subsidies were provided through the Universal Service Fund and provided the network coverage to the remote rural areas. Such a project is being monitored by the BICMA.

The ministry has highlighted that as per the initial terms and conditions, TSPs are required to provide set quality of service standards and are being monitored by the government and BICMA. 

They added that the quality-of-service obligations are also being standardized in the new terms and conditions which will be obligated to the Telecom Service Provider.

The minister also said that the presence of TashiCell has ensured competition in the telecom market and has immensely helped in reducing the tariffs of voice and data services since 2008. 

Over the years Tashicell and BTL have had almost the same number of customers, said the ministry. Further, TashiCell’s equal network reach with the BTL has complemented the network coverage all over the country.

“The telecom companies have helped in providing employment opportunities to Bhutanese in the ICT industry.”

BTL which was established in 2000, received its license the same year Tashi Group of Companies won the international competition to run the nation’s second cellular operator for 15 years back in 2007.

Higher internet connection with low charges

The ministry has brought down the cost of internet leased line services to Nu 550 from Nu 1250 per Mbps per month this year and from 4500 last year for government agencies with effect from December 2021. 

According to the ministry, this has resulted in significant savings for the government at the tune of Nu 13,107,200 per month and Nu 157,286,400 per annum. 

The ministry said that the reduced Internet leased line cost (Nu 550 per Mbps per month) for the general public was also introduced in August 2022. 

“The affordable fixed broadband Internet service shall encourage the public to avail Internet leased line service, thereby reducing load on the mobile broadband infrastructure and improving the quality of mobile broadband services by diverting congestion away from the mobile towers,” officials from the ministry said. 

The ministry has also established redundancy in the National Fiber Optic Network to improve reliability of cellular and Internet services in the country. 

The Digital Flagship project implemented by the ministry has established new fiber rings in following routes; Ura, Bumthang to Tangmachu, Lhuentse, Samdrup Jongkhar to Kanglung, Dagapela to Lhamoizingkha and Simtokha to Lobesa.

MoIC is also in the advanced stages of establishing the 3rd International Gateway in Gelephu to further bring down the cost of the Internet and build International Internet redundancy for the country. 

The Government of Bangladesh has agreed to provide Internet bandwidth to Bhutan at the rate of US$ 3 per Mbps per month up to the Akhaura, Bangladesh point from Singapore. 

The government is working closely with the Government of India to get a friendly rate on the route between Gelephu and Agartala in India.  

Over 50% reduction in mobile voice and data has been achieved in the last five years from 2017, the ministry said.

5G progress 

The telecom operators have started rolling out the 5G networks in major cities such as Paro, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Thimphu core areas by the end of 2022.

The ministry said they are mainly concerned in providing reliable 4G services across the country rather than pushing the Telcos in implementing the 5G plans. “At the moment, although the 5G services have been implemented by the telcos, there is low intake by the people as people mainly resort to 4G services.”

MoIC further added that 5G is more than to provide mobile broadband services. Therefore, 5G users in industries- the Internet of Things (IOT), education, medical are some of the promising applications. “Bhutan is yet to see such development and we are working closely with telcos to explore such possibilities,” the MoIC official said. 

The ministry urges the citizens to use the appropriate service or complaint form under BICMA website to raise issues related to any services, be it TV, mobile, Internet or any other related services. 

 “The Ministry and BICMA will enforce and implement punitive measures to improve services and address customer grievances in a timely manner,” the officials added. 

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