The Union IT minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, released a draft version of the proposed Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, inviting suggestions from the public till October 20. The bill reportedly aims to bring in sweeping changes to how the telecom sector is governed, primarily by giving the Centre more powers.
The bill seeks to replace the current legal framework comprising the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950, that govern the telecom sector.
Here’s a look at some significant changes that the draft ‘The Indian Telecommunication Act, 2022’ —
Whatsapp, Zoom, similar services under its ambit
Calling and messaging services such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype and Google Duo shall need licences to operate in the country. According to 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 a major talking point with telecom service providers seeking a level-playing field with OTT apps over communication services such as voice calls, messages, etc. where operators had to incur high costs of licences and spectrum.
Provision for refund, relief for financially stressed operators
The government has put out provisions for the refund of fees if a telecom or internet provider surrenders their licence. Additionally, the Centre may waive, in part or full, any fee for any licence holder or registered entity under the rules. Struggling telecom operator Vodafone Idea Ltd could be a key beneficiary of some of the proposed telecom reforms, industry experts and executives said, as per a Mint article. According to moneycontrol.com, in the event of payment default, and in extraordinary circumstances, including financial stress, consumer interest, maintaining competition in the sector, or reliability and continued supply of telecommunication services, the government can defer the payment of such amounts, convert a part or all of the amounts payable into shares, write-off payable amounts or provide relief from payment.
Interception of messages, prevention of cyber-frauds
The bill stated that in case of any public emergency and in the interest of sovereignty, integrity or security of India, the Centre or a State government will have the powers to direct that certain messages “shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained or disclosed to the officer mentioned in such order”. However, “Press messages intended to be published in India of correspondents accredited to the Central Government or a State Government shall not be intercepted or detained, unless their transmission has been prohibited.” The government also reportedly said it had included provisions related to identity to help prevent cyber-frauds using telecom services. “The identity of a person sending a message using telecommunication services shall be available to the user receiving such message, in such form as may be prescribed,” it has said in the bill.
‘Spectrum Is Like Atma’
Meanwhile, several Twitter users, including TMC MP Mahua Moitra, have mocked the Centre over a paragraph in its 19-page explanatory note of the bill, which likened the telecom spectrum to “atma” or a spirit that’s omnipresent. Moitra in another tweet said she will carry the Gita as “essential reading material” for the next meeting with department officials.
We looked up the explanatory note, available on the department of telecommunications website. In the section titled “Chapter-wise summary of the bill”, the third point read, “In a way, spectrum is similar to atma, which is ajar, amar as described in Shrimad Bhagwad Gita. Like atma, spectrum too does not have any physical form, yet it is omnipresent.”
Just above this section, there is also a disclaimer that stated, “This explanatory note is for informative purpose only. It is not a part of the bill. The explanatory note shall not be considered for legal interpretation of the provisions of the bill.” This disclaimer is either cropped out or not mentioned in most of the viral tweets mocking the note.
Indian Express report, September 23, 2022
Hindustan Times report, September 23, 2022
The Hindu report, September 22, 2022
Mint report, September 23, 2022
Moneycontrol report, September 22, 2022
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