Telecom Bill: Innovation-unfriendly provisions must be revised

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Source: The post is based on an article “Telecom Bill: Innovation-unfriendly provisions must be revised published in The Business Standard on 23rd September 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2

Relevance: India Telecommunications Bill and the issues associated with it

News: The draft of India Telecommunications Bill, 2022 was released by the Department of Telecommunications recently.

Telecommunications Bill, 2022 is an attempt to consolidate three outdated laws — the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act of 1950.

What are the provisions in the bill?

The Bill proposes that the default mechanism for spectrum allocation in the telecom sector will be through auction.

It also specifies the limited administrative exceptions to this rule which may include the “backhaul” spectrum necessary for efficient 5G services.

However, there are some unfriendly aspects to the current draft that are not in the national interest.

What are the problems with the draft bill?

First, Over-the-Top (OTT) apps that help in communication are being brought within the ambit of communication services in the Bill.

Second, this may be in response to some telecom firms that have lost a considerable amount of voice revenue to other forms of communication. This is backward-looking.

Third, Data-based calling and communication have replaced old-style voice calling everywhere. Therefore, firms should not seek to recover this lost revenue and the bill should not seek to help them.

Fourth, the provisions to give subjective powers to the government to waive fees, charges and penalties for the consumer’s interest and for fair competition are also puzzling. This should only be done in exceptional circumstances.

What can be the course of action?

It is also unnecessary to weaken the powers and responsibilities of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in the final law.

This would centralise all powers with the government and reduce the checks and balances in the system.

This centralization is not good for the telecom sectors as it provides administrative discretion to bureaucrats and politicians.

However, it is expected that these unfriendly provisions in the bill will be removed in the course of the consultation process.

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