Third Internet Gateway in the final phase of discussion with GoI

Third Internet Gateway in the final phase of discussion with GoI

If everything goes as planned, the Third Internet Gateway will see the light soon. An official from the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) said that the program is in an advanced stage, with negotiations on rates being one of the issues.  

“The government is closely working with the government of India (GoI) to get a friendly rate on the route between Gelephu and Agartala in India,” the MoIC official said, adding that the Third Internet Gateway will be set up once the rate is finalized.  

This Gateway will benefit the eastern Dzongkhags (districts) and help connect remote pockets of the country. Internet speed will be faster. It will play a vital role in attracting foreign direct investment and employment generation, the official from MoIC said.

To be established in Gelephu, it will also bring down the cost of the internet and build international internet redundancy for the country.

Delivering the State of the Nation Address recently, Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering had also said that the government is in its final phase of rate discussion with the GoI. “Once finalised, the Third Internet Gateway will be set up in Gelephu,” the PM said.

Meanwhile, the PMO said that to harness the full power of information and communication technology (ICT), it is critical to address redundancy, reliability, security, and cost of the internet in the country.

According to the PMO, the rates are defined bearing in mind, which, an international link competitive and prevailing high costs of internet connection in Bhutan.

In March 2021, Bangladesh offered a friendship rate of USD 3 per Megabites per second (Mbps) monthly for an international private leased circuit (IPLC) from Comilla, Bangladesh via Kuakata and Bangladesh to Singapore via submarine cables.

“We are also expecting an additional International Internet Gateway (IIG) link for approximately USD 5 per Mbps per month including the cost of circuit from India,” the PMO said.

During the visit of the India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankkar to Bhutan, in April 2022, Foreign Affairs Minister, Dasho Dr Tandi Dorji asked and requested GoI to provide the Third Internet Gateway at a rate of USD 1 to 1.5 Mbps. In May 2022, the minister said India has, in principle, agreed to provide the third Internet gateway at the rate Bhutan proposed. Although the Indian government is yet to confirm the exact rate, Dasho Dr Tandi Dorji said that the rate per Mbps will be less than USD 5.

This was one of the most important topics of discussion during the visit of External Affairs Minister of India Dr S Jaishankar, in April, 2022.

The Third Internet Gateway has several benefits. It will lead to reduced wholesale rates levied to the small Internet service providers (ISPs) by the two telecom operators, and therefore, the cost of leased Internet line may reduce in the country over time.

Bhutanese youth especially, say the Gateway is a gift from India to Bhutan and especially to the youth. “In today’s world we need fast and reliable internet service and this announcement was great. But the Gateway has not yet come up and so we are wondering what is happening,” Sonam Dorji, a self-employed youth said. Beginning May 2022 till now, he said seven months have gone by to just “fix a price.”

“Important decisions need time but not this much,” he said, adding the importance or need to accelerate the project should also be looked at.

But Tandin, a young businessman is optimistic. “Apart from discussions on price, there would have been important issues to discuss, which will take time,” he said.

According to Tandin, state and centre level politics of India could be the main issue. “However, I am confident that the Third Internet Connectivity will come up soon. It is for the good of both Bhutan and India,” he said.

Further, Bhutan’s existing International Internet Gateway link via Phuentsholing and Gelephu, all going through the Siliguri corridor in India, poses a risk to both the primary and secondary connections for Bhutan being affected by a single incident at Siliguri since these fiber cables connect Bhutan further to the rest of the world.

The Third Internet Gateway will prevent incidents like the effect of the Amphan Cyclone. In May 2020, the Amphan Cyclone affected Power Grid Corporation of India Limited’s optical groundwire link in Kolkata which further disrupted both Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Info Comm’s networks in the country resulting in Internet blackout for almost two days in Bhutan.

The proposed link for the third internet gateway link is through Gelephu-Agartala-Comilla-Kuakata-Singapore link, which shall serve as the alternative gateway for Bhutan.

Meanwhile, Bhutan has three nationwide ISPs with international Internet gateways, that is, Bhutan Telecom Limited, Tashi Infocomm Limited and NANO. The combined total international bandwidth is 61 Gigabit per second (Gbps) and enters Bhutan through three fibre-optic cable connections, according to the PMO.

Currently, the country is paying USD 7 per Mbps for the internet connections through the Siliguri corridor.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu