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The Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022

Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022: About the Draft

  • Umbrella legislation: The bill seeks to replace the existing legal framework comprising the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950 that currently govern the telecom sector.
  • Amalgamation: The Indian Telecommunication Bill aims to consolidate and amend existing laws governing provision, development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services, networks and infrastructure, and assignment of spectrum.

Indian Telecommunication Act 2022: Key Provisions

  • Widened definition: The Indian Telecommunication Bill expanded the definition of “telecommunication services” to include broadcasting services, e-mail, video and data communication services, satellite-based communication services, Internet-based communication services and over-the-top (OTT) services, among others.
    • It means platforms such as WhatsApp, Zoom and Netflix will come under the ambit of telecom services that require a licence to operate.
    • At present, while telecom companies need a licence to offer services, OTT platforms do not.
  • Message and signal interception: The bill states that information transmitted and received over telecommunication services could be intercepted by an authorized official of the government in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity or security of India.
    • However, exemption is given to press messages that are intended to be published in India of correspondents accredited to the Central or state governments.
  • Cyber fraud prevention: The Indian Telecommunication Bill provides that the identity of the person sending a message through telecom services shall be available to a user receiving it.
  • Dilution of TRAI: The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill proposes amendments to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997.
    • At present, the TRAI Act requires the government to seek the regulator’s recommendations before issuing licences to service providers.
      • It also allows the TRAI to request the government to furnish information or documents necessary to make recommendations.
      • These powers have been proposed to be removed in the new draft Bill.
    • A current provision in the TRAI Act which prohibits the appointment of a government official as TRAI’s chairperson who has not served either as Secretary or Additional Secretary has also been proposed to be removed in the new draft Bill.
Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022
Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022
  • Telecommunication Development Fund (TDF): The bill proposes to replace the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) with the TDF.
  • USOF is the pool of funds generated through a 5 per cent Universal Service Levy on the Adjusted Gross Revenue of telecom companies.
  • It has been used largely to aid rural connectivity.
  • The USOF comes under the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. The act was amended in 2003 to give statutory status to the fund.
  • With the TDF, the objective is also to boost connectivity in underserved urban areas, R&D, skill development, etc.
  • Spectrum without auction: As part of the Bill, the Centre has acknowledged “administrative process” as a means to assign spectrum without holding auctions.
    • While the auction route has not been done away with under the new framework, the Centre will have the discretion to decide on the mode of allocating spectrum.
    • However, the bill provides for allocation of spectrum through auction for specified functions relating to government and public interest like defence, transportation, research, etc.
  • Simplified restructuring: The draft bill simplifies the framework for mergers, demergers and acquisitions, for which the entities will only need inform the Department of Telecommunications.
  • New insolvency proceedings:
    • If a licensee is undergoing insolvency proceedings it can continue to operate if it continues to provide telecom services and does not default on payment of dues.
    • However, if the entity is unable to comply, then the assigned spectrum will revert to the control of the government.
    • In case of default payment by a licensee, the government may defer payment, convert the amounts into shares or even write-off of such amounts.
    • The Indian Telecommunication Bill also proposed a refund of fees in case a telecom or Internet provider surrenders its licence.
  • Exceptions: The draft also mentions that the Centre can grant exceptions from the provisions of this Act or rules to a licensee.

 

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