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Explained | What Changes Does the Draft Telecom Bill Aim To Bring?

The draft bill, released to the public on Wednesday, aims to enhance the powers of the govt in the telecom sector.

Published
India
3 min read
Explained | What Changes Does the Draft Telecom Bill Aim To Bring?
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The draft Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022, released to the public on Wednesday, 21 September, aims to give the Union government greater powers in the regulation of telecom services.

"The bill recognises the globally established principle of exclusive privilege of the Central Government in relation to telecommunication services, telecommunication network, telecommunication infrastructure and spectrum," the draft says.

It also aims to replace three existing laws: the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.

By doing so, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) said that "outdated" concepts such as "telegraph" and "telegraph officer" will be abolished.

Explained | What Changes Does the Draft Telecom Bill Aim To Bring?

  1. 1. Key Amendments to the Existing Laws

    One of the most prominent changes the draft bill aims to introduce is the inclusion of platforms that currently provide calling services for free, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, and Zoom, under the ambit of telecom services.

    The draft states that such platforms will be covered under a licensing regime, and will have to operate as per the terms and conditions of traditional telecommunication services. Hence, they will have to obtain licenses from the government just like other telecom services do.

    The term "telecommunication services" may include broadcasting services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video, and data communication services, audiotex services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services, satellite-based communication services, internet-based communication services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communications services, machine to machine communication services, and over-the-top (OTT) communication services.

    This comes as traditional telecom service providers have for long been demanding a level-playing field with OTT apps over services such as voice calls, messages etc, which the latter currently provide for free.

    Expand
  2. 2. Domain of the Government

    The bill confers upon the Union government "exclusive privilege" in connection with all telecommunication services, networks, infrastructure, and spectrum.

    Spectrum means the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over. Such signals enable people to make calls and use different applications on mobile phones.

    It further provides that the government shall exercise its privilege through the grant of:

    • Licences for telecommunication services or telecommunication networks

    • Registrations for establishing telecommunication infrastructure

    • Authorisation for the possession of wireless equipment

    • Assignment of spectrum

    The government will also seek to amend the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act and dilute the powers of the watchdog.

    The current act mandates the government to obtain the views of TRAI before issuing a licence to a service provider. This provision will be abolished as per the new draft bill.

    The government also seeks to make obsolete a provision empowering TRAI to request the government to publish documents. It does away with another provision that compels the DoT to refer back any recommendation for reconsideration to TRAI if the DoT cannot accept the said recommendation.

    In case of a dispute, the bill provides for the right to appeal before an appellate authority. It also creates provisions for the government to set up an alternate dispute resolution mechanism such as arbitration, mediation or other processes of dispute resolution.
    Expand
  3. 3. Provisions for Waiving Off Fees

    The bill includes a provision to waive off fees of telecom service providers if they surrender their licence.

    The draft says that the Union government may "waive in part or full any fee, including entry fees, license fees, registrations fees or any other fees or charges, interest, additional charges or penalty" for any licence holder or registered entity under the telecom rules and regulations.

    Further, it proposes to exempt from interception press messages which are intended to be published in India by correspondents accredited to the Union government or state governments.

    However, such exemption will not be granted in case of a public emergency, or to maintain public safety, sovereignty, integrity and security of the country, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order or to prevent incitement to offences.

    Expand
  4. 4. Penalties for Non-Compliance

    In case of any breach of the terms and conditions regarding licensing, registration, and authorisation, the government will have the right to impose penalties.

    Such penalties may take the form of suspension, revocation, curtailment of the duration of the licence, imposition of financial penalties, giving directions to the entity, etc.

    However, all offences under the bill are bailable.

    Further, the use of any equipment that blocks telecommunication services, like jammers, will not be permitted as it is likely to disrupt law and order. However, they can be used if authorised by the Union government.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Key Amendments to the Existing Laws

One of the most prominent changes the draft bill aims to introduce is the inclusion of platforms that currently provide calling services for free, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, and Zoom, under the ambit of telecom services.

The draft states that such platforms will be covered under a licensing regime, and will have to operate as per the terms and conditions of traditional telecommunication services. Hence, they will have to obtain licenses from the government just like other telecom services do.

The term "telecommunication services" may include broadcasting services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video, and data communication services, audiotex services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services, satellite-based communication services, internet-based communication services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communications services, machine to machine communication services, and over-the-top (OTT) communication services.

This comes as traditional telecom service providers have for long been demanding a level-playing field with OTT apps over services such as voice calls, messages etc, which the latter currently provide for free.

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Domain of the Government

The bill confers upon the Union government "exclusive privilege" in connection with all telecommunication services, networks, infrastructure, and spectrum.

Spectrum means the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over. Such signals enable people to make calls and use different applications on mobile phones.

It further provides that the government shall exercise its privilege through the grant of:

  • Licences for telecommunication services or telecommunication networks

  • Registrations for establishing telecommunication infrastructure

  • Authorisation for the possession of wireless equipment

  • Assignment of spectrum

The government will also seek to amend the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act and dilute the powers of the watchdog.

The current act mandates the government to obtain the views of TRAI before issuing a licence to a service provider. This provision will be abolished as per the new draft bill.

The government also seeks to make obsolete a provision empowering TRAI to request the government to publish documents. It does away with another provision that compels the DoT to refer back any recommendation for reconsideration to TRAI if the DoT cannot accept the said recommendation.

In case of a dispute, the bill provides for the right to appeal before an appellate authority. It also creates provisions for the government to set up an alternate dispute resolution mechanism such as arbitration, mediation or other processes of dispute resolution.
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Provisions for Waiving Off Fees

The bill includes a provision to waive off fees of telecom service providers if they surrender their licence.

The draft says that the Union government may "waive in part or full any fee, including entry fees, license fees, registrations fees or any other fees or charges, interest, additional charges or penalty" for any licence holder or registered entity under the telecom rules and regulations.

Further, it proposes to exempt from interception press messages which are intended to be published in India by correspondents accredited to the Union government or state governments.

However, such exemption will not be granted in case of a public emergency, or to maintain public safety, sovereignty, integrity and security of the country, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order or to prevent incitement to offences.

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Penalties for Non-Compliance

In case of any breach of the terms and conditions regarding licensing, registration, and authorisation, the government will have the right to impose penalties.

Such penalties may take the form of suspension, revocation, curtailment of the duration of the licence, imposition of financial penalties, giving directions to the entity, etc.

However, all offences under the bill are bailable.

Further, the use of any equipment that blocks telecommunication services, like jammers, will not be permitted as it is likely to disrupt law and order. However, they can be used if authorised by the Union government.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from news and india

Topics:  Telecom   Draft Bill   Telecom Industry 

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Edited By :Tejas Harad
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