New Delhi, September 25 2022: The Indian Ministry of Communications had initiated a public consultative process prior to enacting a new Telecom Bill.
In July 2022, a Consultation Paper on ‘Need for a new legal framework governing Telecommunication in India’ was published and comments were invited. Comments have been received from various stakeholders and industry associations.
Based on the consultations and deliberations, the Ministry has now prepared the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022.
To facilitate further consultations, an Explanatory note to provide a brief overview of the Bill has also been prepared.
Comments have been invitec by October 20.
Early media reactions suggest the bill could have “far reaching effects on OTT services, spectrum allocations and other fields.”- Business Standard. The Bill, which will regulate the sector once it becomes an Act, seeks to replace the existing legal framework governing telecommunication in India, comprising the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill says, spectrum should primarily be given through auction. For specific functions related to the government and public interest, like defence, transportation and research, it proposes assignment through the administrative process.
The telecom department aims to bring in a landmark change by extending the definition of ‘telecommunication services’.It proposes to bring over-the-top (or OTT) communications services such as WhatsApp, Telegram, satellite-based communication services and internet under the ambit of the bill.
So, OTT communication services have to take a licence now and be subjected to the same conditions governing telecom players in India, like quality of service and security rules, etc.
Shiv Putcha, Founder and Principal Analyst, Mandala Insights says,including OTT under telecom is contentious.
Next, the draft bill tries to achieve through law a ‘right of way’ (ROW) enforceable at the state- and at the municipal-corporation level. This legal framework is key to the rollout of 5G services. It lays down a framework in which a public entity that owns the land has to grant ‘right of way’ permission expeditiously, unless it gives a substantive ground for refusal.The existing regulatory framework, based on Right of Way Rules, 2016, has had a limited impact in addressing bottlenecks in the rapid expansion of telecom infrastructure.
The Bill also raises some concerns. Experts indicate, the Centre cannot take coercive action against states or municipal corporations to impose ‘right of way’ rules, as land is a state subject.
More clarity is required as to how the government plans to regulate OTT communication services under this Bill.
Analysts also worry that the Bill will adversely impact the consultative role of TRAI, weakening its position. It excludes the obligation of the government to consult TRAI on licensing issues.
Mint adds Social media and messaging platforms such as Whatsapp, Signal and Telegram, which offer voice or video calling, will fall under the ambit of the draft telecom bill, but for light-touch regulation, telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Friday.He said such apps were already covered under the Indian Telegraph Act. but now have been specified under the proposed legislation.
“Technology has brought so many changes that the distinction between a voice call and a data call has practically disappeared,"the minister said.
The bill proposes to give the government the power to intercept messages on internet-powered communication services. The minister said the provision for this existed earlier as well. He, however, clarified that decryption of service would not be sought. “There is no question of decryption."
Draft Telecom Bill PDF here
Explanatory note to draft here