Digital network helps Tibetan town stay in touch

Communicating with the 502 residents in Trashi Thongmon community used to be a problem. Calling all of the 135 households was time-consuming and expensive. Making announcements through a loudspeaker was easy, but the wind often carried the sound away, leaving many in the scattered rural community ill-informed.

Thanks to the local government's efforts in building a digitally networked community, notifications are now easy. "All we have to do is post messages in WeChat groups," said Dondrup, head of the community in Nedong district, Lhokha city, the Tibet autonomous region.

The change came last year when the local government reached an agreement with a network provider to offer internet services to the community at a preferential price.

For 330 yuan ($50) a year, residents can enjoy internet access and also get a fixed-line telephone and a set-top box to watch digital TV, including Tibetan-language programs, for free.

The market price of the internet access stands at 560 yuan a year, and the set-top box costs another 240 yuan.

Currently, 87 families are connected to the network and another 18 will be soon. Free Wi-Fi has also been introduced in many public areas, including a basketball court, a teahouse and the community committee's offices.

The network has streamlined communication. Various WeChat groups, including ones for those on low incomes, migrant workers and Party members, have been set up allowing notifications to be targeted solely at relevant parties, Dondrup said.

Previously, people had to visit the village committee and submit a copy of their ID card to access government services, but now they can take a photo of their ID card and send it to the committee via WeChat, he added.

Tsering Kelsang is in a WeChat group with 24 people on low incomes. "Thanks to the committee, I work as a part-time forest ranger and can make 3,000 yuan a year. The committee often sends other job postings to the group," he said.

He said that before his family was connected to the internet, he seldom talked with his brother who works in Lhasa. Now they often make video calls.

"My 3-year-old son enjoys the online cartoon programs. When I work on the farm, instead of bringing him with me, I leave him at home watching cartoons. I don't have to worry about him running about outside," he said.

Families without computers and smartphones are also benefiting as they can use four computers Nedong district government bought for the committee.

Kunsang Drolkar is looking for a job as a waitress and has been using the computer in the committee's office to watch training videos. "It's convenient and I have learned a lot," said the 45-year-old.

According to the development and reform commission of Tibet autonomous region, 83.6 percent of villages in Tibet were connected to the broadband network by the end of last year.