Despite the government’s ambition to turn Bhutan into an information technology (IT) hub, a plan to establish a second international connection to the internet has been put on the backburner.
Bhutan currently has one international connection to the internet, via Phuentsholing, and since March 2012, via Gelephu, as well.
But with both these links converging at Siliguri in India, observers in the IT sector have questioned whether this provides true redundancy, or guarantees 24/7 internet access.
The Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) has been pursuing the establishment of second link to the internet that would go through northeast India, then to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, and onwards to Hong Kong.
But DITT director, Phuntsho Tobgay said that this is not a top priority for the department currently, given other more pressing issues, such as meeting a commitment to establish at least 185 community centres by March next year, among others.
However, Phuntsho Tobgay added that the issue was forwarded to the Foreign Affairs ministry, which responded that the proposed link would be dependent on the “techno commercial feasibility” aspect of the project. “Which means you can’t just invest in a project that is technically and commercially not feasible,” he said. He added that existing demand in Bhutan for such a link would be a determinant factor, not only for Indian telecommunications service providers to establish or share a connection through northeast India, but also for Bhutanese service providers like Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Infocomm.
Phuntsho Tobgay said that, if demand picks up through establishment of more business processes outsourcing (BPO) companies, or similar types of businesses, then that would bring feasibility to such a project. But he pointed out that the establishment of a second link to the internet via Bangladesh is an important requirement for Bhutan’s aspirations to become an IT hub. He said that, while it is not DITT’s top priority currently, work is still ongoing to secure this link.
DITT has requested the Foreign Affairs ministry, and the Bhutanese embassy in Dhaka, to initiate contact with Bangladeshi telecommunications service providers.
Druknet General Manager, Tshering Norbu, said that, while the internet service provider (ISP) is not very clear on the feasibility of international circuits through Bangladesh, “any such setup is going to help on internet reliability.”
But he also pointed out that, despite the lack of a second link to the internet through Bangladesh, Druknet’s current circuits are reliable. “We’ve already built diversified and redundant link through our current international gateways – Phuentsholing and Gelephu.” He added that Siliguri has protections in place to prevent circuits from failing. “We’ve never experienced outages at Siliguri,” he said, pointing out that, since the second international gateway through Gelephu was established, internet access has been 24/7.
“Even if a link or two goes down, the users aren’t impacted due to redundancy we’ve built,” he said.
Thimphu Techpark Chief Operating Officer, Tshering Cigay Dorji, said that the joint venture company that has moved into the IT park, and another potential tenant, have not raised the issue. But he pointed out that, for bigger companies, the lack of a second international link may be a concern.