Draft Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022

Draft Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022 was unveiled recently by the Department of Telecommunications for stakeholders’ comments.

Key features

  • The objective of the draft bill is to consolidate and make changes to existing laws for the development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services, telecom networks and infrastructure in India.
  • It merges three Acts that govern the Indian telecom sector. They are Indian Telegraph Act 1885, Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933, and The Telegraph Wires, (Unlawful Protection) Act 1950.
  • The draft bill proposes to include over-the-top (OTT) communication services like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram under the definition of telecommunication services.
  • This means that OTT communication services will be subjected to rules followed by telecom operators, which forces operators to incur high costs of licensing and spectrum. Currently, OTT players are providing free services due to the lack of this provision.
  • The draft bill also amends the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act to dilute TRAI’s function to being just recommendatory body. Currently, the telecom department is mandated to seek TRAI’s recommendation before issuing a license to a service provider. The Bill also removes legal provision requiring TRAI to request the government to provide necessary information or document to make this recommendation.
  • The draft bill also proposes that the Central Government can gain control of the spectrum assigned to a telecom entity that is going through bankruptcy or insolvency. Currently, there is no specifications on whether the spectrum owned by a defaulting operator belongs to the Central Government or if the banks can take control of it.
  • The draft bill provides the Central Government the power to postpone, convert into equity, write off or grant relief to any licensee under extraordinary circumstances like financial stress, consumer interest and maintaining competition etc.
  • It also proposes to replace the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) with the Telecommunication Development Fund (TDF). The USOF is a fund generated by charging 5 per cent Universal Service Levy upon all telecom fund operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue. This fund has been used for providing rural connectivity. The purpose of the TDF seeks to expand the scope of USOF to include undeserved urban regions, research and development, skill development etc.

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