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Third Telecommunications Company for Bhutan?

The policy is approved but government is yet to decide if a third company is required

Communication: The Cabinet recently approved the Bhutan Telecommunications and Broadband policy, which opens the market for a third mobile telecommunications company.

Under section 2.6 of the policy, which covers mobile development, it is stated that the government “shall license a third mobile operator via a competitive selection process”.

It is also stated that the existing duopoly of Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell ends by 2013.

However, the government is yet to decide if a third company is required.

Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said that while the policy mentions that if it is found that a third service provider is necessary, the government has the option to select one more company.

The minister said an evaluation would have to be carried out first to determine if a third company is required.

Whether this evaluation will take place will be determined later this year.

“I cannot really say that we will go for a third operator, or we’ll not go for a third operator,” Lyonpo Dhungyel said.

The policy states that one of the major issues the country currently faces is the high costs of international connectivity and unavailability of options. The government’s goal, the policy points out, is for good quality of services provided at an affordable cost to the public.

This is to be achieved by enabling a competitive and innovative sector thus a third telecommunications company.

However, whether a third service provider will be able to significantly reduce rates given the large investments required and the high costs of international connectivity remains a question.

Lyonpo Dhungyel said the fastest way of reducing costs, from the operators’ point of view, would be for more subsidies provided to the telecommunications companies. Both companies already receive government subsidies.

However, Lyonpo pointed out that the government is facing financial constraints, which may hinder further subsidies. But he said this does not mean further subsidies have been ruled out.

He also said he would rather urge the two telecommunications companies to reinvest more of their earnings back into their operations.

On reducing the high costs of international connectivity, Lyonpo said that he has not yet heard back from his Indian counterpart.

The information and communications minister had requested his Indian counterpart’s assistance in helping bring down international connectivity costs for Bhutan, either through negotiation with Indian telecommunications companies for special rates for Bhutan or through a subsidy. The request was made in September last year, however, the government is yet to receive a concrete response.

Lyonpo Dhungyel said he would meet the Indian minister next month in Dhaka, Bangladesh where he will resubmit the request.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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