Third Party Telecom Operator Not Yet in the Govt’s Book

During the Prime Minister (PM) Dr Lotay Tshering’s meet with the business community on May 26, 2023, one of the important submissions made by a representative of the business community concerned possible entry of a third party in the telecom sector.

However, the PM said that as chairperson of the executive decision making body, the government may not allow a third party operator. He said that theoretically there appears to be chances and opportunities but that practically the executive body has decided not to have a third party operator.

The PM explained that though there are no rules that a third party operator will not be allowed to enter the business, he said that if the third party comes up with  conditions which will significantly benefit the consumer then it is not an issue. However, if the benefits and condition for consumers is similar, the PM said it would not be good to have more competitors in a confined market.

The PM reiterated that though it is good to have competitors, it will be difficult to ensure that the third party operator would benefit the people and country. He said that it may lead to more disadvantages than benefits, since the third party will have to invest in the infrastructure, whose cost will ultimately seep down to the consumers.

However, the PM said that if the third party operator comes up with a condition which will be more beneficial to the consumers, they could share it with the government. He said that without any significant contributions to the consumers, it will not make any sense.

Meanwhile, a representative of a private sector said that the third operator will not have to build new infrastructure since the policy says that the current two Tele-operators will have to share the infrastructure.

He said that with the third party operator, the cost sharing of the current two Tele-operators will be reduced; cost of the capital will go down and that internet charges and the telephone bills will also go down, amongst others.

However, the PM said that concerning infrastructure, the private individuals will also have to see how the infrastructure differs between the current Tele-operators and the difference in the fibre-optic cable, whose expenses will subsequently be borne by the consumers since no business will operate without a profit.

The representative of the private sector also shared the possibility of floating shares to the public since the current Tele-operator has made huge net profits.

“There are no public shareholder in both the mobile service provider, but only private shareholder; to this, they can float the share to the public,” said the private sector representative.

Nonetheless, the PM said that while both the Tele-operators in the country has made profit, the two should now focus on giving efficient services to the customer, make it more affordable and provide quality services at low rates, amongst others.

“If they don’t consider such conditions then we can invite a third party with such similar conditions,” the PM said, adding that without such conditions if a third party is giving consent, then there will not be any significance benefits to consumers.

Due to these factors, the government has decided not to disturb the current Tele-operators. However, the PM said that the way forward with the reforms and transformation and with the open market system the government can’t say that the third party will not be allowed.

The PM also said that to establish a third party, the government will have to promptly study the conditions which will be more beneficial to the consumers. If the conditions are similar, then there isn’t any need of introducing a third party operator in the country.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu