Department of Telecommunications issues draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022

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Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India issued a draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022 here on September 22. the draft bill was introduced in order to meet the modern technological requirements and make way for the colonial-era laws that govern the telecom sector.

The due date for stakeholders to comment on the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022 is October 20, according to Department of Telecommunication officials.

The proposed draft telecom bill 2022 will become an act in the next six to ten months period, says Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Communications and Electronics, Information and Broadcasting. 

The bill aimed to minimise regulatory burden, uncertainty, and overlapping of different laws in high-end innovative telecom services, the minister added.

The proposed draft bill’s objectives are the governance of the telecom sector and it gives more teeth to the central government.

Telecom bill merges existing laws

In the draft bill 2022, the central government plans to amalgamate and amend all existing laws that control the allotment, operation of networks, development of infrastructure and expansion of telecommunication services. 

DoT merges and updates three separate acts that control the telecom sector, the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933 and The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Protection) Act 1950.

Besides, the Centre is also planning to amend the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act 1997. 

Until now telecom department seeks the regulator’s view before providing service licensing to the telecom service provider.

New telecom entrants 

In the new draft bill, the government amended the definition of telecommunication services by including internet-based communication and broadcasting services like WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram, Signal, Instagram and OTT (over the top) Services.

Department of Telecommunication
Source – National Herald

At present, the OTT applications fall under the Indian Telegraphy act 1885 and are regulated under Information Technology Act 2000.

As per the law, telecommunication services are covered under the license system and the same rules will be applicable for new entrant telecom services providers. From now onwards, internet-based communication services have to take licenses for messages and communication platforms and share revenue with the government.

Telecom Service providers vs OTT players 

Over the years, the tussle between telecom operators and OTT players is in difference in the usage of voice calls, and messaging services to its customers.  

Telecommunication service providers had to obtain licences by spending huge amounts through bidding, whereas the OTT players manage their infrastructure to provide free services to their customers.

Department of Telecommunications
Source – ET Telecom

With the advent of technology, many changes have taken place, one such is the distinction between voice call (pay call) and data call (internet data)  has practically disappeared, the minister said.

The main priority of the bill is the protection of the users. To prevent cyber fraud and identify the caller, Internet-based communication service providers should make a norm of KYC (Know Your Customer) for making calls and messages on applications.

In case, KYC information is not available for internet-based calls, then the government will conduct consultations on the technical and legal aspects with the telecom industries to find a resolution. 

Framework for digital communications

The introduction of the telecom bill is the first step toward a comprehensive legal framework for digital communications. In the next phase, the digital personal data protection bill will be laid in the parliament followed by the digital India bill.

Department of Telecommunications
Source – All Access telecom

Draft bill gives more teeth to the government to intercept messages on the internet-based communication services.

Clause 24(2) of the draft telecom bill says “the information transmitted and received over telecommunications services could be intercepted by an authorised official of the government in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity or security of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, or preventing incitement to an offence”.

The provision of intercepting messages could open a debate over the interruption of encryption. Messaging Application WhatsApp claims they provide end-to-end encryption to its customers.

Previously the messaging service provider through the court asked the central government for instructions to identify the first originator of messages.

In case of defaults in payments, the central government will have powers to defer, convert into equity(shares) write it off, and grant relief of full or part of the amount under extraordinary circumstances.

The companies will have to act in accordance with the revamped scheme under the Companies Act 2013 and inform the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India.

The bill looks to simplify the framework for telecommunication service providers in case of mergers, demergers and acquisitions or another form of restructuring by only requiring intimation to the licensing authority. 

The spectrum allocated to the telecommunication service provider that is currently undergoing insolvency or bankruptcy and unable to offer services, pay dues or act in accordance with license conditions will be taken under central government control. 

 USOF replaces with TDF

The bill also proposes substituting the Universal Service Obligation fund (USOF) with the Telecommunication Development Fund (TDF).

USOF is the contribution generated by a 5 per cent universal service levy that is charged upon all telecom fund operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue. USOF is largely used to aid rural connectivity, however, TDF’s objective is also to boost connectivity in underserved urban areas, R&D, skill development etc.

Department of Telecommunications
Source – Addressing media on Indian Information Bill 2022, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Communications and Electronics, Information and Broadcasting – HT

Apart from auctioning of the spectrum, the draft bills also provide an authorised framework for the assignment of spectrum through administrative process or non-auction processes, the minister said.

The non-auction process for radio spectrum, airwaves for public sector units MTNL, BSNL and public sectors such as transportation, defence and research.

The central government will specify the payment mechanism, methodology for pricing, price, fees and charges, frequency range, duration and procedure in such cases.

Maximised penalty to Rs 5 crore.

The draft bill has relaxed the penal provisions for breach of license conditions and categorised the level of severity and penalties from written warning to a maximum of Rs 5 crore, said Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Communications and Electronics, Information and Broadcasting. 

The Right to appeal before the appellate authority is provided in the bill. It also authorises the central government to set up an alternate dispute resolution mechanism (ADR) such as Arbitration, mediation and others.

Department of Telecommunications invites comments on the Bill

The DoT is inviting comments on the draft India Telecommunication Bill 2022 enclosed below,

https://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Draft%20Indian%20Telecommunication%20Bill%2C%202022.pdf

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