The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has introduced a new draft Bill, through which the government seeks to replace the existing legal framework governing telecommunications in India.
The government through the new Bill seeks to consolidate the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
The Centre believes India needs a legal framework attuned to the realities of the 21st century, explanatory note to the Bill proposed to be named Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, said.
“The existing regulatory framework for the telecommunication sector is based on the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. The nature of telecommunication, its usage and technologies have undergone a massive change since the era of the “telegraph”. The world stopped using “telegraph” in 2013,” the explanatory note said.
With 117 crore subscribers, India is the world’s second-largest telecommunication ecosystem.
The telecommunication sector employs more than 4 million people and contributes about 8 per cent of the country’s GDP, the note said.
The Ministry of Communications initiated a public consultative process to develop a modern and future-ready legal framework. In July 2022, a Consultation Paper on ‘Need for a new legal framework governing Telecommunication in India’ was published and comments were invited.
The Consultation Paper explained the existing legal framework and issues associated with it. The Consultation Paper highlighted the evolution of telecommunication regulation in other countries.
Then, comments have been received from various stakeholders and industry associations. The Ministry has further examined the comments carefully and the following key themes have emerged:
Recognition and acknowledgement of the need for a new legal framework that is future-ready;
The need for updating the nomenclature and definitions of relevant terms in the telecommunication legal framework;
The role that a strong legal framework can play in ensuring the steady rollout of new telecommunication technologies;
Need for legal certainty regarding spectrum management including issues relating to the use, allocation, and assignment, based on the underlying principle that spectrum is a natural resource that needs to be assigned in a manner that best subserves the common good;
Alignment of telecommunication standards with international standards and best practices; * Importance of cybersecurity, national security and public safety concerns, while ensuring constitutional and procedural safeguards;
Need for a distinctive insolvency framework that allows continuity of the provision of telecommunication services, so long as the licensee pays all dues; and
Need for rationalisation of penalty framework, providing for specific penalties that are clearly linked with the nature of breach and gravity of the offence.
While preparing the draft, relevant legislations in Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and the United States of America have also been examined in detail, the government said.
The Draft Bill says that considering spectrum as a valuable and inexhaustible natural resource, an element of public good, it is vital to ensure efficient management and use of the spectrum.
This new bill will consolidate and amend the laws governing the provision, development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services, telecommunication networks and telecommunication infrastructure, and spectrum assignment.
Under the new Bill, among many new Internet-based services, the OTT platforms will be considered “telecommunication services”.
Besides OTTs, broadcasting services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video and data communication services, audio text services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, Internet and broadband services, satellite-based communication services, Internet-based communication services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communications services, machine to machine communication services will be now considered as “telecommunication services”.
The Draft Bill also said the Central Government shall have the exclusive privilege to provide telecommunication services, establish, operate, maintain and expand telecommunication network and telecommunication infrastructure, and use, allocate and assign spectrum.
The last date for sending comments, if any, on the Draft Bill is October 20, 2022, and they may be emailed to Naveen Kumar, Joint Secretary – Telecom.