The Ministry of Communication has extended the last date for receipt of comments from the general public and stakeholders towards the draft of the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, till November 20 this year.
“The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, along with an Explanatory Note, was released by this Ministry on DoT‘s website on September 21. Comments from the general public, various stakeholders and industry associations were sought by November 10, 2022,” a statement from the Ministry of Communication said.
“In response to the requests received from several stakeholders, the Ministry has decided to extend further the last date for receipt of comments till November 20,” as per the statement.
Earlier on October 28, in a path-breaking initiative by the newly appointed chairman of the IT Committee, Pratap Jadhav, the IT panel held its first meeting with the agenda being the Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022.
As per sources, so far never has a Bill been discussed in a Committee before its introduction in Parliament.
The Bill is currently in its draft stage and is in the public domain to seek feedback from people.
The Additional Secretary, Ministry of Telecommunications and other senior officials deposed before the panel. A detailed presentation was made on the Bill and its features before the meeting.
MPs asked the authorities to provide clarity on the Bill on the usage of VoIP, and VPN.
The Bill amends the TRAI Act, 1997 to remove the requirement for the central government to seek recommendations from TRAI in matters of licensing. Thus, TRAI may not have any role in matters of licensing in the telecom sector. MPs questioned whether this is appropriate. In sectors such as Finance and Electricity, the core functions of the regulator include licensing.
The definition of ‘telecommunication services’ is different in the Bill and the TRAI Act.
The definition under the Bill is wider and includes services such as broadcasting services, machine-to-machine communication, internal-based communication services, and Al communication services. MPs raise the question of whether TRAI will regulate these additional services also. The TRAI Act may be needed to be amended to harmonise these definitions.
The Bill provides that a license will be required for establishing a telecommunication network, and registration will be required for providing telecommunication infrastructure. However, as per the definition, telecommunication networks could comprise solely of telecommunication infrastructure. A question was asked whether a license or registration will be applicable for providing telecommunication infrastructure.
MPs spoke in the meeting while appreciating the efforts of the government, questioning the authority being formed.
Apart from Chairman Jadhav, MPs Nishikant Dubey, Mahua Moitra, Shatrughan Sinha, Praful Patel, Kartikeya Sharma, and Dr Anil Agarwal were some of the members present in today’s meeting.
The sources said that in the earlier meeting, Chairman Jadhav requested all the members to discuss this Telecom Bill so that time can be saved and like the usual times the panel does not have to discuss a bill once it is referred to a panel.
The Committee has also opined that it will finish its discussion on the Bill ahead of the upcoming Winter Session of Parliament when the government is likely to introduce it. The sources say that after the inputs received from the Parliamentary panel the Bill will again be put up as a draft to seek public feedback. Government is confident that they will be able to do the needful and ensure that this bill is passed through during the monsoon session of 2023.
It is also known through sources that Telecom Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw has individually called MPs of the Committee seeking their support for discussion on the Bill and also telling the MPs that the Centre is keen on passing the Bill through consensus.
With 117 crore subscribers, India is the world’s second-largest telecommunication ecosystem. The telecommunication sector employs more than 4 million people and contributes about 8 percent of the country’s GDP.
The existing regulatory framework for the telecommunication sector is based on the Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885. The nature of telecommunication, its usage and technologies have undergone a massive change since the era of “the telegraph”. The world stopped using the “telegraph” in 2013.
We now live in the era of new technologies such as 4G and 5G, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, M2M Communications, and Mobile Edge Computing. These technologies are creating newer opportunities for India’s socio-economic growth. Therefore, India needs a legal framework attuned to the realities of the 21st century.
In the past eight years, the Government has taken several initiatives for the growth of the telecommunication sector. These measures include rationalising the definition of AGR, rationalising bank guarantees and interest rates, allowing for 100 percent FDI under the automatic route, delicensing of frequency bands, streamlining the process of SACFA clearances for mobile towers.
The Government has also committed huge amounts to digital inclusion. Providing high-quality connectivity in unconnected areas, the revival of BSNL, taking optical fibre to all gram panchayats, developing India’s own telecom technology stack, and developing the telecom manufacturing ecosystem, demonstrate the government’s commitment to digital inclusion. In this context, initiatives have been taken to restructure the legal and regulatory framework for the telecommunications sector.
The Ministry of Communications initiated a public consultative process to develop a modern and future-ready legal framework. In July 2022, a Consultation Paper on ‘Need for a new legal framework governing Telecommunication in India’ was published and comments were invited.
The Consultation Paper explained the existing legal framework and issues associated with it. The Consultation Paper highlighted the evolution of telecommunication regulation in other countries.