HomeBusinessDraft telecom bill proposes waiving off dues, licensing of OTT apps

Draft telecom bill proposes waiving off dues, licensing of OTT apps

Platforms similar to WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix might come below the ambit of telecom providers that require a licence

Platforms similar to WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix might come below the ambit of telecom providers that require a licence

The federal government has launched the draft of ‘The Indian Telecommunication Act, 2022’ whereby it has proposed a number of important adjustments, together with provisions for waiving off dues for financially careworn operators, bringing over-the-top platforms (similar to WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix) inside the ambit of telecom providers that require a licence to function and provisions for message interception in case of public emergency.

The draft Invoice, which was launched late on Wednesday evening inviting feedback from stakeholders, seeks to switch the prevailing authorized framework comprising the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wi-fi Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Illegal Possession) Act, 1950, that at the moment govern the telecom sector.

“It’s not simply authorities as huge regulator and trade the regulated, however an interactive system through which trade’s considerations are addressed by the federal government and the federal government’s concern are duly considered by the trade. That’s vital as a result of we have now to have a look at the safety of customers…,” Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw mentioned on Thursday.

The explanatory observe on the draft Invoice mentioned it aimed to consolidate and amend present legal guidelines governing provision, improvement, growth and operation of telecommunication servicesnetworks and infrastructure, and project of spectrum.

“Spectrum is a helpful and inexhaustible pure useful resource, which has a component of public good. Due to this fact, it is important to make sure environment friendly use and administration of spectrum… ,” the Centre mentioned within the observe.

The draft Invoice proposed a particular framework to deal with defaults in fee by a licencee or a registered entity, whereby below “extraordinary circumstances”, the federal government might permit for deferment of the fee of such quantities, conversion of a component or the entire quantities into shares within the licencee and even write-off of such quantities.

The draft Invoice additionally simplifies the framework for mergers, demergers and acquisitions, for which the entities might want to adjust to the scheme for restructuring as supplied below the Corporations Act, 2013, and solely want to tell the Division of Telecommunications. Additional, if the licensee is present process insolvency proceedings it could proceed to function if it continues to offer telecom providers and doesn’t default on fee of dues. Nevertheless, if the entity is unable to conform, then the assigned spectrum will revert to the management of the federal government. It “additionally seeks to create disincentive for buying spectrum at a worth decrease than auction-determined value.”

The draft Invoice has proposed a refund of charges in case a telecom or Web supplier surrenders its licence.

The Invoice additionally expanded the definition of “telecommunication providers” to incorporate broadcasting providers, e-mail, video and knowledge communication providers, satellite-based communication providers, Web-based communication providers and over-the-top (OTT) providers, amongst others. Whereas the explanatory observe states that for offering telecom providers “an entity shall need to get hold of a licence”, the draft Invoice has a clause that enables exemptions from the requirement of licence and registration within the public curiosity.

Additional, it states that in case of any public emergency and within the curiosity of the sovereignty, integrity or safety of India, the Centre or a State authorities can have the powers to direct that sure messages “shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained or disclosed to the officer talked about in such order”. Nevertheless, “Press messages meant to be printed in India of correspondents accredited to the Central Authorities or a State Authorities shall not be intercepted or detained, except their transmission has been prohibited.”

Noting that each telecom consumer needs to know who is asking, the federal government mentioned it had included provisions associated to id to assist forestall cyber-frauds utilizing telecom providers. “Customers additionally want safety from calls that they need to keep away from. The Invoice allows a authorized framework for stopping harassment of customers from unsolicited calls and messages,” the federal government defined within the observe. “The id of an individual sending a message utilizing telecommunication providers shall be out there to the consumer receiving such message, in such type as could also be prescribed,” it has mentioned within the Invoice.

Prashant Tarwadi, Director – Corporates, India Rankings and Analysis, mentioned the draft Invoice supplied readability upon two essential points — insolvency proceedings for careworn telecom firms and bringing Over-The-High (OTT) and Web Service Suppliers (ISPs) below the umbrella of the Ministry of Telecommunications. “The draft invoice stipulates that possession of spectrum stays with authorities, and worth of spectrum can’t be offered by collectors below the Insolvency and Chapter Code (IBC). Authorities reserves the fitting to take again the spectrum if the ailing telecom operator fails to pay authorities dues.”

Nevertheless, he added that this might additional delay resolutions of huge telecom operators on condition that “there was substantial delays in fee of presidency dues by such telcos and important a part of telcos’ debt are in the direction of spectrum dues payable to the federal government”.

Kazim Rizvi, Founding father of Delhi-based suppose tank The Dialogue identified that OTT providers are at the moment regulated below IT Act which is healthier suited to control OTT and digital platforms. Bringing them below the telecom providers will “have a big influence on the innovation on this sector due to the licensing necessities, added compliance burden and related prices”.

“Secondly, the facility given to the State and Central authorities to order interception…would now be relevant to the messaging platforms which offer encrypted providers. There’s nonetheless no readability as to how this provision will function on such platforms the place they themselves maintain no information of the communication. Additional, the discretionary powers supplied below the draft invoice with out adhering to the need and proportionality mandate as envisaged in Puttaswamy judgement would possibly result in the circumstances of unchecked surveillance,” Mr Rizvi added.

The invoice has additionally diluted the powers of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and eliminated the elements whereby the federal government needed to take suggestions from the authority earlier than issuing licenses, together with eradicating the at the moment present prohibition on appointing authorities officers as chairpersons beneath the rank of secretary and extra secretary, Mr Rizvi famous. “These adjustments would influence the autonomy and functioning of the authority,” he added.


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