For years, some of the most remote corners of the country did not have access to television and depended mainly on radio and local leaders for information on what was happening outside their villages.
According to data collected by the Department of Local Government in March 2020, there were 39,461 households in rural areas of Bhutan without BBS TV connectivity, of which 10,543 households had televisions but no BBS connectivity.
Samtse Dzongkhag had the highest number of households not connected to the BBS, while Bumthang had the lowest.
However, in 2020, the Department of Information and Media began installing Ku-band satellite dishes through the South Asia satellite to create an informed society that includes rural and urban areas.
Ku band is installed in remote places not reached by cable television.
According to a DoIM press release, access to information and the media has improved significantly since then. People have access to BBS channels, including the third BBS channel, which is digital and focuses on educational programs.
He said the launch of the SAS and the subsequent establishment of the ground station in 2019 allowed the signals from the BBS to reach the whole country. Since July 2020, approximately 11,589 rural households have been connected to the BBS through Ku-band facilities. “About 8,351 households are connected to BBS via Ku-band satellite dish TV in fiscal year 2020-21.”
As of February 26, approximately 3,238 households were connected to the BBS via Ku-band satellite dish TV in rural areas by the three licensees as of this fiscal year.
The press release indicates that the DoIM, in collaboration with the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), has been working on this initiative since July 2020. BICMA has authorized four Ku-band licensees to procure and install satellite dishes and Ku-band accessories. “The Dzongkhags have been linked with permit holders to ensure efficiency and accountability.”
It says local cable operators have been asked to extend cable TV networks beyond their designated areas using Ku-band satellite dishes.
Further, it states that BICMA and DoIM continuously monitor the price and fees charged to rural households to supply and install Ku-band equipment and facilities.
According to residents of Bumdeling, Trashiyangtse, the community has not had access to television for years. Residents received vital information and news from BBS radio and gewog officials.
The gewog, however, has recently been hooked up to the Ku-band dish, and people are enjoying the service. “The quality is superb. We quickly receive news related to Covid-19 and government decisions,” said a resident.
They paid Nu 6,000 as setup fee.
But some households were unable to repair the dishes they had installed two years ago and which were destroyed by the wind.
According to Sonam from Jamkhar, Trashiyangtse, he has not watched TV or listened to the news for the past six months because his antenna broke down. He said information was essential during this unprecedented time.
Gakiling Gup Wang Tshering said most residents could not afford to buy the dishes and televisions, which is why they remain cut off. But he said those who had satellite dishes installed were watching unhindered.
As BBS connectivity has become imperative for citizens to access timely and accurate information, announcements and entertainment, programs are transmitted via terrestrial and satellite platforms.
The analog cable platform is the largest network that carries BBS signals. With the help of the two multi-service operators NetCom Bhutan MSO and DrukMSO, cable television is going digital while improving access.
The last day to digitize cable TV according to the DoIM is December 2022. It states that the move to digitization will allow customers to view higher quality programs. “BBS 1 and 2 are in the process of upgrading their studios and equipment to digital as they will also need to go digital.”