Economic Times, October 20, 2022
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is addressing the concerns of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) over a possible dilution of its powers under some provisions of thedraft telecom bill , said communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. He underlined that it’s only a draft legislation at this stage and changes can be made.
Speaking to ET, the minister allayed the concerns of companies that offer over-the-top (OTT) communication services such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, saying the government will only introduce light-touch regulations, keeping consumer interest, security and issues of cyber fraud in mind.
Vaishnaw also said that the DoT will soon announce a series of procedural reforms.
“And once we have a new Telecommunications Act in place, we will also come upwith licensing reforms,” he said. With 5G launched in the country, the government expects companies to invest Rs2.5-3 lakh crore over the next two years, creating nearly 80,000 jobs, not includingthose in ancillary industries, the minister said.
“The industry has shared its inputs on the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill2022. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s concerns are being addressed,”Vaishnaw told ET, in his first comments acknowledging the regulator’s worries.
“The department has taken a careful approach, but it’s a draft any way.” Experts said the draft bill gives greater powers to the DoT in terms of taking policy decisions at the regulator’s expense.ET reported October 19 that some clauses in the draft bill seek to give the Dot overriding powers on issues relating to tariffs and quality of service.
Currently, these issues fall within Trai’s purview. Also, experts have flagged the deletion of some of the current provisions undersection 11 (1) of the Trai Act that ensure checks and balances through a consultation process between the department and the watchdog. The deletion removes regulatory safeguards and renders Trai as more of a recommendatory body than a regulatory authority, according to the experts.
“We are also meeting with the legal fraternity and industry, and have extended the deadline for comments, and if needed, it may be further extended,” Vaishnaw said. “We are yet to come up with a final draft.” Earlier, the department had set October 20 as the deadline for public comments. That’s now been extended to October 30.Another contentious clause in the draft telecom bill was enlarging the definition of telecommunication services, bringing OTT communication services under its ambit. Communication apps fear over-regulation, saying it will stifle innovation, pointing out that they are already governed by the IT Act.
Parliament,” Vaishnaw said. “We have consistently maintained that OTT communication players would come under the light-touch regulations.” He added that protection of users was of paramount importance, and they have the right to know the identity of a caller, even on a call made over an app. “Cyber fraud is another big issue that needs to be addressed,” he said. Currently, OTT-based callers who engage in cybercrimes, including phishing, are escaping punishment as they remain anonymous, say government officials.
The draft bill seeks to replace the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian WirelessTelegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.The new consolidated law is expected to come into effect by the middle of nextyear.
Vaishnaw added that DoT is working with Trai to revise quality of services (QoS)norms. “Industry is also working pro-actively to address such issues,” he said. “Now, withsufficient spectrum holdings, the telcos will further enhance network quality.”
The minister said state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) will remain animportant market-stabilising entity, backed by the Centre’s Rs 1.64 lakh crorerescue package.
“BSNL is a strategic company, and we will continue with it,” he said. “We are ontrack to roll out BSNL’s 4G with a target to launch services in the first week ofJanuary. By August next year, 5G services will be deployed in BSNL’s network.However, in some scenarios, it will be a simultaneous deployment so that thepublic sector telco can catch up with the private sector.”
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