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Draft telecom bill aims to bring reforms on licensing, consumers...

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The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) issued the draught Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 in an effort to repeal British-era telecom laws. The proposed Bill aims to make significant changes to how the telecom sector is governed, primarily by giving the Centre more authority in several areas.

Why has the government released a draught telecom bill?

The center intends to consolidate and amend existing laws governing the provision, development, expansion, and operation of telecommunication services, telecom networks, and infrastructure, as well as the assignment of spectrum, through the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022. The draft Bill, which was released by the Department of Telecommunications on Wednesday night, combines three separate acts that govern the telecommunications sector: the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, and the Telegraph Wires Act of 1950.

What are some of the most significant changes to existing telecom laws?

One of the most significant changes is the inclusion of modern over-the-top communication services such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram in the definition of telecommunication services.

According to the draught law, providers of telecommunication services will be subject to the same licensing regime as other telecom operators. For several years, telecom service providers have sought a level playing field with OTT apps over communication services such as voice calls, messages, and so on, where operators had to incur high costs for licenses and spectrum, while ORR players rode on their infrastructure to offer free services.

Are there other areas where the government has proposed to increase its powers?

The government is also considering amending the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act (TRAI Act) to weaken the sectoral watchdog’s role as a recommending body. The current TRAI Act requires the telecom department to consult with the regulator before granting a new license to a service provider. This provision is repealed in the proposed bill. It has also removed the provision that allowed TRAI to request information or documents from the government in order to make this recommendation. Furthermore, the new Bill proposes to remove the provision that requires the DoT to refer back to the recommendation for reconsideration by TRAI if it cannot accept TRAI’s recommendations or requires modification.

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