Bhutan Telecom to sign stringent service level agreement with BSNL

Bhutan Telecom to sign stringent service level agreement with BSNL

Delays caused by multiple parties involved in the project

In almost all articles written about Bhutan’s Third Internet Gateway, it was said that the gateway will become a reality soon. As per information from Bhutan Telecom Limited (BTL), the target to commission the 3rd International Internet Gateway (3IIG) is tentatively October, 2023.

Further, Bhutan Telecom Limited (BTL) would be signing a stringent service level agreement with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), which is a central public sector undertaking headquartered in New Delhi, India. It is under the ownership of the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, Government of India

Talking about delays, the General Manager (GM) of BTL, IT division, Budhi Krishna Adhikari, said it could be attributed to the involvement of multiple parties. “While BSNL is the end-to-end (Gelephu-Singapore) provider for the 3IIG as far as BT is concerned, there seem to be other parties that BSNL is dependent on en route,” BTL’s GM said.

He elaborated that on the Gelephu-India stretch of the 3IIG link, BSNL seems to be using Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) fiber cable. Power Grid Corporation of India Limited is also an Indian central public sector undertaking under the ownership of the Ministry of Power, Government of India. It is engaged mainly in the transmission of bulk power across different states of India.

The GM further said that Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) fiber is probably used for the India-Bangladesh stretch and Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL) submarine fiber cables for the Bangladesh-Singapore stretch.  BTCL or Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited is the largest telecommunications company in Bangladesh.  Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL) is an International Long Distance Communications and International Internet Gateway (IIG) operator that provides various Telecommunications services through the Submarine Cable network. The service provided by BSCCL represents the Long-haul communication between Bangladesh and the rest of the world.

Due to involvement of multiple parties, GM shared that BTL foresees probable challenges in the operation and management of the 3IIG in future, which could impact the reliability and quality of the circuit. To ensure reliable connectivity, BT is trying to sign stringent Service Level Agreement with BSNL as the end-to-end provider, according to the CEO.

Budhi Krishna Adhikari also said that BTL received an offer from BSNL, India on February 3, 2023 for setting up the 10 billions of bits per second (Gbps) 3IIG from Gelephu to Singapore via Bangladesh. 

“BSNL’s commercial offer for the 10G 3IIG includes cost components and other terms,” said Budhi, adding that, with further ongoing discussions on operationalizing the 3IIG between BTL and BSNL, it has been learned that BTL would need to bear additional cost components over the BSNL’s offer for the 3IIG link.

For instance, BSNL’s commercial offer for the 10G 3IIG in brief includes the cost components and other terms like USD 8 per megabits per second (Mbps) per month which translates to USD 960,000/year for 10 Gbps 3IIG and a one-time setup charge of USD 10,350.

In addition, out of the USD 8 per Mbps/month, BTL would need to pay USD 4.5 per Mbps/month discounting the government of India’s (GoI) subsidy of USD 3.5 per (Mbps) per month. With this, BTL in effect would need to pay USD 45,000/month or equivalently USD 540,000 per annum plus the one-time setup charge of USD 10,350.

“GoI’s subsidy of USD 3.5 per Mbps/month or equivalently USD 420,000/year for 10 Gbps 3IIG will become part of India’s ongoing financial support for the royal government of Bhutan (RGoB),” said the GM.  

The GM said that the per Mbps cost of BSNL’s offer for the 10 Gbps 3IIG link at USD 4.5 looks cheaper than the existing rates that BT is paying for the same bandwidth. “The per Mbps offer at USD 8/month not taking the subsidy element into account, is much more expensive as compared to the rates from current partner providers of BT.” 

Meanwhile, in further discussions on operationalizing the 3IIG between BTL and BSNL, BTL has come to learn that they would need to bear additional cost components over the BSNL’s offer for the 3IIG link.

BTL may have to absorb two additional cost components including cross connections charges and Foreign Contract Tax (FCT) in the larger interest of materializing the 3IIG.

According to Budhi Krishna Adhikari, the additional cost component includes, cross connection charge of USD 593/month and one-time cross connection setup charge of USD 593.

“3% FCT as per the taxation rules of the Department of Revenue & Customs, Ministry of Finance is also included,” said the GM. 

Meanwhile, despite concerted efforts from BTL, the progress in implementing the 3IIG has been slow.

BT currently has two 10Gbps links to Singapore, one each from Gelephu and Phuentsholing. While the exit or entry points for these two links are geographically isolated in Bhutan, both the links pass through the cities of Siliguri, Kolkata and Chennai in India. Both the links would be impacted should any major disasters occur in one of these cities.

However, the 3IIG which will be routed from Gelephu-Agartala (Assam, India) – Kaukata (Bangladesh) – Singapore, is expected to add geo-redundancy to Bhutan Telecom’s existing international links.

With the 3IIG put in place, the country should not see any incidents of blackouts with other international links. 

The much-anticipated third internet gateway for Bhutan took eight years of negotiations with India and Bangladesh. In an earlier interaction with the Bhutanese media, foreign affairs minister Dr Tandi Dorji, said India has, in principle, agreed to provide the third Internet gateway at the rate Bhutan proposed. External Affairs Minister of India Dr S Jaishankar conveyed this decision to the Bhutanese government during his visit in May 22.

Although the Indian government is yet to confirm the exact rate, Dr Tandi Dorji then said that the rate per Mbps will be less than USD 5. Currently, the country is paying USD 7 per Mbps for the Internet connection through the Siliguri corridor.

In February 2, 2023, Indian media wrote that India has announced its assistance to Bhutan for the development of the third international internet gateway. “As part of expanding the digital partnership between India and Bhutan, the Government of India is pleased to help the Royal Government of Bhutan with the establishment. According to the Embassy of India in Bhutan, the government will expedite a concessional rate to minimize the cost of the operation of the gateway,” the article read. 

\The gateway is expected to intensify redundancy, connect the remote areas of Bhutan, enhance the internet bandwidth, and lower the cost of internet connectivity to users.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu