Bhutan, also known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, has
finally entered the information age.
Bhutanese King Jigne Singye Wangchuk on June 2 gave the
green light for both television and Internet service in this tiny Himalayan kingdom. That
date also marks the silver anniversary of his coronation.
Bhutan had banned television in 1992. It was seen as a
corruptive force that would destroy the country's traditional Buddhist way of life. But as
the country approaches the new millenium, Wangchuk appears to have realized his nation
would miss the technological bus if it did not permit TV and data services.
TV comes to Bhutan with plenty of restrictions, namely a
complete monopoly on the market held by the newly created, government-run Bhutan
Broadcasting Service (BBS).
"Initially, BBS will be [transmitted] for three hours
every day. Once it picks up, we will extend its telecast time and make it into a
'round-the-clock channel," said BBS chairman Sonam Tshong, who added that the channel
will focus on news and cultural programming.
He also said the BBS is interested in alliances with
overseas programmers that provide educational and informational programming.
Initially, the channel will reach only the capital city of
Thimpu. It will later spread to the entire kingdom of some 900,000 people.
But as soon the decision to start a national TV channel was
announced, satellite dishes sprouted up throughout Thimpu and other cities, particularly
those located near the border with India, from where cable-TV equipment can be brought in
The Bhutanese are big cricket fans, and are likely in a
hurry to install TV sets in order to watch this summer's World Cup matches.