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The draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    7th Oct, 2022

Context

The Ministry of Communications released a draft of the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 for public comments. The draft has purposed various changes to the current telecom regulatory framework.

About

About the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022

  • The Bill is an attempt by the government to update the extant regulatory framework in keeping with the advancements and challenges in the sector.
  • The Indian Telecommunication Bill looks to repeal the old legislation and “restructure the legal and regulatory framework” for the telecommunications sector.

Need for the change:

  • This was much needed given that the three main legislations that occupy this domain are considerably outdated, with the most recent of these having been enacted more than 70 years back. These legislations are:
    1. The Indian Telegraph Act enacted in 1885
    2. The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act enacted in 1933
    3. The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful) Possession Act in 1950

Unhappiness among Telecom Service Providers (TSPs):

  • Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) allege that parallel features provided by OTT communication services have resulted in a cut in their sources of revenue (voice calls, SMS).
  • At the same time, they don’t have to deal with infrastructure and licensing costs that they have to undertake. Therefore, TSPs have been demanding a level playing field with OTT services.

Possible outcomes of the draft telecommunication Bill on over-the-top (OTT) communication services

  • Expands the definition: The current draft of the Bill expands the definition of “telecommunication services” to include OTT communication services.
  • License Requirements: This might bring OTT telecommunication services under the same licensing conditions as TSPs.
    • TSPs have to be issued the Unified Access Service License (UASL) for them to be able to provide telecom services in India.
  • Fulfilling Requirements: If OTT communication services are required to obtain the same license, they would also be subject to a number of conditions:
    • Maintaining ‘know your customer details of their users
    • Adhering to certain encryption regulations
    • Allowing lawful access to the government of their equipment and networks

Consumer protection measures:

  • Spam calls and frauds: The draft Bill proposes that the identity of the person communicating using any form of telecommunication services shall be available to the user receiving such communication.
  • User Identification: The draft Bill obligates license holders to identify the users of its service through a verifiable mode of identification.
  • Penalties: The draft Bill penalizes providing wrong identification details with a ?50,000 fine and suspending the operation of the specific mobile number.

Impact on the position of the TRAI:

  • Dilutes the Position: The current draft considerably dilutes TRAI’s position in a number of ways reducing it from a regulatory to a recommendatory body.
    • The government would no longer be required to seek recommendations from the TRAI before issuing licenses.
    • It also removes the power of the TRAI to requisition from the government information or documents that are necessary to make such recommendations
    • The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will no longer be required to refer back to TRAI the recommendations for reconsideration. Removal of such powers would not be in keeping with international practice.

Provisions for Internet shutdowns:

  • Power to suspend Internet: For the first time, a specific provision enabling the government to order a suspension of internet power has been introduced through the draft Bill.
    • Presently, suspension of internet services is ordered under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency and Public Safety) Rules, 2017 that have been made under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

Boost to Telecom service providers:

  • Clarity over Allocation of the spectrum: It has clearly laid down that, the primary route for allocation of the spectrum is the auction, and mentions the administrative process that needs to be followed in cases where the spectrum needs to be allocated for defense or transportation.
  • Utilization of the spectrum to the fullest: The laid provisions allow the TSPs to exploit the spectrum by enabling sharing, trading, leasing, surrendering, or returning unutilized spectrum.
  • Issue of the right of way: It is about the legal framework for setting up telecom towers. It mandates that land owned by a public entity should be available expeditiously unless there is an express ground of refusal.
  • The Bill also simplifies the process for restructuring, merging, or demerging.
  • Broadening the scope of “Universal Service Obligation Fund”: The said fund is to be utilized for other purposes such as urban areas connectivity, research, etc., thereby expanding its current mandate from the limited aspect of enhancing rural connectivity.

Conclusion:

The Draft Telecommunication Bill 2022 addresses challenges like maintaining a sufficient spectrum and adopting new technologies and techniques to serve customers with better and feature-rich service. The draft Bill appears to be open for discussion which is an indication that it will lead to a comprehensive policy framework.

Verifying, please be patient.

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