Draft Telecommunication Bill 2022

Draft Telecommunication Bill 2022

News: The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 (Telecom Bill) published for public consultation aims to create a legal framework attuned to the realities of the 21st century.

Key Highlights of the Bill:
• It consolidates three separate acts – The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Protection) Act, 1950.
• The government has included internet-based and OTT communication services such as WhatsApp calls, Facetime, Google Meet etc. under telecom services. It was the long-standing demand by telecom operators for creating a level playing field. At present, while telecom companies need a license to offer services, OTT platforms do not.
• The DoT has also proposed to dilute some crucial powers and responsibilities of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on issuing new licenses to service providers.
• In the case of insolvency, the spectrum assigned to an entity shall revert to government control, and the Central Government may take such further action, as may be prescribed, which may include allowing such licensee or assignee to continue to use the spectrum.
• The telecom ministry has proposed a provision for refund of fees in case a telecom or internet provider surrenders his license.
• Universal Service obligation fund to be renamed as Telecommunication development fund. The fund will be utilized to boost connectivity services in underserved rural, remote, and urban areas. It will also aid research and development of new telecommunication services, skill development, and support the introduction of new telecommunication services.
• In the case 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.
• It enables the government to order suspension of internet power. It has been introduced through the draft Bill. Currently, suspension of internet services is ordered under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency and Public Safety) Rules, 2017.

Issues with Draft Bill
• Misses the opportunity for Democratization of Telecom services
• Centralization of power by introducing Licensing regime
• Treating OTT services as 'substitute' for telecom service will have -ve impact on innovation
• Solves no issue on current framework of Internet Shutdowns
• Fails to include learning from SC's decision in Anuradha Bhasin vs UOI

Way Forward:
• The impact Internet shutdowns have on the fundamental right to free speech of citizens, the high economic costs have been consistently raised as a criticism which needs to be addressed.
• By exercising its exclusive privilege to issue a license, the central government may ask the online service providers to store data locally. This discretion to the government may adversely affect the privacy of individuals. Therefore, concerns over such matters need to be addressed too.

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