THE DRAFT TELECOMMUNICATION BILL, 2022

  • The Ministry of Communications released a draft of the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 last week for public comments.
  • The draft is an attempt by the government to update the extant regulatory framework in keeping with the advancements and challenges in the sector.
  • The current draft of the Bill expands the definition of “telecommunication services” to include OTT communication services.
  • As a consequence of this, OTT telecommunication services may be subject to the same licensing conditions as TSPs.
  • If the OTT communication services are required to obtain the same licence, they would also be subject to a number of conditions such as maintaining
  • ‘know your customer’ details of their users, adhering to certain encryption regulations and allowing lawful access to the government of their equipment and networks.
  • For the first time, a specific provision enabling the government to order suspension of internet power has been introduced through the draft Bill.
  • Civil society has however, raised concerns that the proposed provision gives the government power to order internet shutdowns while failing to incorporate safeguards such as judicial oversight.

Background

  • The Ministry of Communications released a draft of the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 last week for public comments.
  • Since then, the draft has generated a significant amount of discussion on various changes that it proposes to make to the current telecom regulatory framework.
  • The Minister for Communications, Ashwini Vaishnaw, has stated that the Bill would become law in the next 6-10 months.

Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022

  • The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill is an attempt by the government to update the extant regulatory framework in keeping with the advancements and challenges in the sector.
  • This was much needed given that the three main legislations that occupy this domain are considerably outdated, with the most recent of these having been enacted more than 70 years back.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 the Indian Telegraph Act enacted in 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act enacted in 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful) Possession Act in 1950.
  • The Indian Telecommunication Bill looks to repeal these legislations and “restructure the legal and regulatory framework” for the telecommunications sector.

Draft Telecommunication Bill Affect Over-The-Top Communication Services

  • Over-the-top (OTT) communication services refer to services that provide real time person-to-person telecommunication services.
  • Some popular examples of these include messaging platforms like Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal, Messenger, Duo, Google Meet etc.
  • These platforms use the network infrastructure of telecom service providers like Airtel, Vodafone and Jio and provide features that compete with telecommunication services such as voice calls and SMS services.
  • Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) allege that these features result in a double whammy for them as they cut into their sources of revenue (voice calls, SMS) while not having to deal with infrastructure and licensing costs that they have to undertake.
  • Therefore, TSPs have been demanding a level playing field with OTT services.
  • The current draft of the Bill expands the definition of “telecommunication services” to include OTT communication services.

Consumer Protection Measures In The Draft Bill

  • To curtail the ever-increasing incidence of 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.
  • This would mean that unlike now where only the phone number of the person making the communication is displayed, going forward the name of the person would also be displayed.
  • As per the Communications Minister, this facility would not only be available for voice calls but also for users of OTT communication services.
  • The draft Bill obligates licence holders to identify the users of its service through a verifiable mode of identification.
  • To ensure that a user provides correct details, the draft Bill penalises providing wrong identification details with a ₹50,000 fine and suspending the operation of the specific mobile number or barring the person from using the telecom service for a certain duration.
  • Further, the draft Bill also provides that commercial communications which are advertising and promotional in nature should be made only with the prior consent of a subscriber.
  • While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has previously issued the “Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations” in 2018, spam communications and sharing of contact details without any safeguards continues to be rampant. Its inclusion in the draft Bill takes it out from the purview of TRAI and gives government the power to take stringent measures against violators.

Draft Bill’s provisions on internet shutdowns

  • For the first time in the Indian legal framework, a specific provision enabling the government to order suspension of internet power has been introduced through the draft Bill.
  • Currently, 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.
  • However, civil society has raised concerns that the proposed provision gives the government power to order internet shutdowns while failing to incorporate safeguards such as judicial oversight that have been recommended by the Standing Committee on Information Technology.

SOURCE: THE HINDU,THE ECONOMIC TIMES,MINT

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