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Sansad TV: Bills & Acts- New Telecom Bill

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Introduction:

Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022 that seeks to replace three laws: the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950. The Department of Telecommunications released the draft Indian Telecommunications 2022 Bill to regulate Internet-based OTT (Over-The-Top) telecom services.

Draft telecommunication bill, 2022:

  • Updated and Consolidated Various laws: It is an attempt by the Department of telecommunication to update the extant regulatory framework and consolidate various legislations presently governing the telecommunication landscape in India.
  • Introduced technological advancements: The new regulatory framework aims to bring the law at par with technological advancements and remove obsolete provisions from the colonial era laws.

Analysis part of this bill:

  • Through the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, the Centre aims to consolidate and amend the existing laws governing the provision, development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services, telecom networks and infrastructure, in addition to assignment of spectrum.
  • Amongst various amendments and changes, the bill seeks to combine the three acts that govern the telecommunications sector: Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Protection) Act, 1950.
  • In terms of users’ safety and security, the telecommunications bill aims to enable a legal framework to prevent the harassment of users from unauthenticated sources.
  • The draft establishes that the prior consent of the user is necessary before offering any promotional services or advertisement.
  • This way, as India is already one of the worst impacted countries through spam calls and text messages, many users can expect relief from regularly being bombarded with such unsolicited intimations.
  • The bill provides for the right of appeal before the appellate authority. Besides, the central government is also enabled to set up an alternate dispute resolution mechanism which can range from mediation, arbitration, etc.
  • The draft bill also assigns unwavering power to the central government.
  • Second, it seeks to dilute the watchdog function of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to a recommendatory body.
  • Third, if a telecom entity that possesses spectrum undergoes bankruptcy or insolvency, the assigned spectrum will return to the central government’s control.
  • The new bill also proposes to replace the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) with the Telecommunication Development Fund (TDF).

OTT platforms:

  • One of the key changes is inclusion of new-age over-the-top communication services like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram in the definition of telecommunication services.
  • As per the draft law, providers of telecommunication services will be covered under the licensing regime, and will be subjected to similar rules as other telecom operators.
  • This issue has been under contention for several years now with telecom service providers seeking a level-playing field with OTT apps over communication servicessuch as voice calls, messages, etc.

Limitations and concerns with the draft bill

  • The broad of the definition of ‘telecommunication services’ include OTT communication platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal among others, may potentially lead to regulatory or jurisdictional overlaps.
  • The Bill gives broad powers to the central government in prescribed situations without any accompanying checks and balances.
  • The Bill empowers the central and state government to intercept messages in the interest of public safety and emergency without the providing clearly defined guardrails for it.
  • The term, national security is left undefined and does not match constitutional precedent or text which instead uses the phrase,in the interests of the security of state

Conclusion:

  • The vision of “Digital India”can never be realised if affordable broadband connectivity remains only within the reach of a few.
  • There should be some reasonable basis or some tangible evidence to initiate or seek approval for interception by State authorities. Any digression from the ethical and legal parameters set by law would be tantamount to a deliberate invasion of citizens.