The government has entered your chat There has been large scale innovation in the telecom space driven by 5G, IoT & AI. Telcos are diversifying into content and payments, and a telecom bill shou… more
Context of the Draft Telecom Bill - Key Issues & Concerns
The draft Telecom BIll, published by the Indian government in September 2022, aims to bring significant changes to the telecom sector by replacing outdated laws, including the century-old Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. The telecom bill is expected to be introduced in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament, and is likely to have a significant impact on businesses and consumers if adopted in its current form.
The bill deals with several key issues, including licensing norms, spectrum allocation, consumer protection and surveillance. Some of the key proposals include:
- A mandatory licensing regime that would include communication services like Whatsapp, Signal and Telegram; video conferencing applications like Skype, Zoom and Google Meet; M2M services including IoT applications; media and broadcasting; and other data-led services.
- An extension of the government’s broad powers to intercept and monitor messages and to suspend telecom services in the case of public emergencies or threats to public safety.
- Promoting infrastructure development and domestic manufacturing in the telecom sector through R&D activities, and streamlining the spectrum allocation process
- Strengthening the consumer protection framework by imposing strict regulations on service quality and introducing grievance redressal mechanisms
Some of these proposals raise serious concerns with respect to consumer privacy, ease of doing business and the overall impact on innovation.
Keeping this in mind, Hasgeek aims to foster greater engagement between policymakers and the technology community with a series of deliberations on the bill.
Why it is important to engage on this issue
The telecom industry is experiencing significant changes driven by technologies such as 5G, IoT, and AI, enabling innovative services and new business models. Telcos are diversifying into content and payments, while startups are entering sectors like agriculture and healthcare. An effective telecom bill is crucial to capitalise on these opportunities, incentivise innovation, and maintain operational efficiency.
However, the draft telecom bill raises serious concerns. It could increase costs for telecom operators and startups, hinder access to affordable services, and impede progress towards universal access goals. Moreover, the draft bill compromises user privacy. It expands government surveillance powers, introduces new identity verification norms, and weakens privacy rights. Additionally, the bill allows for arbitrary internet shutdowns during emergencies, without adequate safeguards.
To ensure a thriving telecom sector, it is essential to strike a balance between regulatory oversight and safeguarding user rights. For this to happen, policymakers, the technology community, users and civil society need to have a deeper dialogue on the proposed telecom bill.
Who should attend this discussion?
- Startup teams building products across the infrastructure, application and services layers
- Investors tracking the telecom, IT and media sectors in India
- Individual consumers who will be directly affected if the bill is adopted
- Civil society actors engaged in defending the rights of users
- Think tanks developing a research agenda on these issues
- Policymakers including government officials and regulators in the telecom sector
- Lawyers and policy advisors advising clients on the impact of the bill
Key outcomes for participants
- An introduction to key concepts and concerns in the bill, followed by a discussion with experts
- Understand the second-order effects of the bill for businesses and consumers based on a presentation by Aapti Institute, an organisation that has developed a detailed report on this issue
- Join a forum for policymakers, startups and consumers to engage with each other on these issues
Agenda & Speakers
The online event on 30th June will be conducted as follows:
- Context setting discussion between Parag Kar (ex-VP, Qualcomm India) and Amlan Mohanty (Lawyer & tech policy advisor) for 20 minutes
- Report briefing by Aapti Institute by Kunal Raj Barua and Mousomi Panda for 15 minutes
- Panel discussion on the impact of India’s Telecom Bill on startups, innovation and consumers between Mahesh Uppal (Telecom policy consultant), Sunil Bajpai (Chief Trust Officer, Tanla Platforms), Gurumurthy Konduri (Ozonetel), Arnav Gupta (former Editor of Fragments and DroidconIN on hasgeek.com), and Anushka Jain (Internet Freedom Foundation). The discussion will be moderated by Amlan Mohanty and will last 45 minutes.
Contact information: For queries about the meetups, contact Hasgeek at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (91)7676332020.
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CUTS comments on Draft Telecom Bill
CUTS Comments are available at https://cuts-ccier.org/pdf/comments-on-the-draft-telecom-bill-2022.pdf
Our key suggestions are:
- Need for cross-jurisdictional analysis to learn from the experience of other countries which have undertaken regulatory reforms in the telecom sector.
- Conducting Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA), with due stakeholder consultation, to ascertain the least intrusive regulatory alternative to meet valid regulatory objectives, especially for clause 2(10), clause 4, clause 44, clause 23(a), and schedule 4, among others.
- Deferred reforms, missed consumer-facing issues, and missed objectives of the National Digital Communications Policy2018 (NDCP’18) must be incorporated in the draft bill.
- It is imperative to clarify the draft bill’s jurisdictional scope, and incorporate a transitional period for service providers to comply with different provisions.
- The definitions of telecommunication services (exclude Over The Top (OTT)
services, consumer internet companies, and broadcasting services, and regulate them separately), telecommunication equipment (exclude consumer telecommunication equipment), and broadcasting services need to be reconsidered.
- Key terms which have been left undefined need to be appropriately defined. These include: ‘unauthorised access’ to a telecommunication network, intercepting a message ‘unlawfully’, wilful contravention that is detrimental to ‘national security’, the occurrence of any ‘public emergency’, in the interest of the ‘public safety’, what comprises of ‘public property’ etc.
- The draft bill should not reinvent the wheel but focus on the optimal implementation of existing initiatives by learning from past mistakes and improving the prevailing mechanisms of Do Not Disturb (DND).
- The Government of India (GOI) should partner with credible consumer organisations for – providing alternate grievance redress mechanisms; raise awareness and build the apacity of consumers on evolving telecom technologies and related issues; and explore ways to implement DND; among other issues.
- Ensure regulatory harmonisation on issues such as the duty of users, which may be better dealt with under the Indian Penal Code (IPC); jurisdictional issues between the Telecom Regulatory Auhtority of India (TRAI) and the Competition Commission of India (CCI), as well as between different ministries – Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), MoC and Ministry of Information Broadcasting (MIB); different existing and upcoming legislation as a part of new digital governance
architecture – Digital India Act, Data Protection Bill, Information Technology (IT) Act, and this draft bill.
- Imposing criminal liability in case of various offences under the draft bill should be viewed with caution, given its likely adverse impact on Ease of Doing Business (EoDB).
- Need for appropriate checks and balances in granting government powers to data access, internet shutdowns, and power-sharing with TRAI. These may include: incorporating principles of necessity, legality and proportionality; the need for reasoned orders; giving opportunities to be heard to different stakeholders; need for judicial oversight, among others, while exercising such powers.
- Undertake a detailed analysis on whether to create a category of special creditors for DoT in case of insolvency and bankruptcy of a service provider.
- Ensure harmonisation of domestic standards with international standards.