The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India (GoI) issued the draft of the ‘Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022’ (Bill) on September 21, 2022. The Bill has been prepared based on the comments received from various stakeholders and industry associations on the Consultation Paper titled ‘Need for a new legal framework governing Telecommunication in India’ published by the Ministry of Communications in July 2022.
The Bill pursues to supersede the existing legal framework legislations governing telecommunication in India i.e. the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950. Through this Bill, the Government of India is seeking to restructure the legal and regulatory framework for the telecommunications sector.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BILL
The Bill has been categorised into 10 Chapters and 5 Schedules. The significant/ key provisions of the bill are as below:
The outdated concepts such as “telegraph”, “telegraph officer”, etc. have been removed with this bill. The new definitions are more comprehensive and relevant to today’s day and age.
Apart from voice, voice mail, video and data communication services, audiotex services etc., the definition of “telecommunication services” also includes broadcasting services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communications services, machine to machine communication services, over-the-top (OTT) communication services.
License and Registration Provisions:
Any entity providing telecommunication services using telecom networks (as defined in the bill) would require to obtain a relevant license from the government.
The registration requirements for providers of “telecommunication infrastructure” (as specified in Schedule 5) (currently known as 'IP-I' entities) has been proposed to continue in the Bill. The entities having the registration have been allowed to operate under existing terms and conditions for 5 years and post expiry the migration to the new terms and conditions would be mandatory.
Authorization of Wireless Equipment:
For the possession of wireless equipment (e.g., telecom equipment used in wireless communication or wireless transmitters for broadcasting or emission of wireless communication), the entity has to obtain an authorization from the government. The equipment (such as jammers) that blocks telecommunication or disrupts law and order shall be strictly prohibited.
As per the bill, the central government can allocate spectrum either through auction (competitive bid process) or by administrative process (without auction). It is to be noted that any existing spectrum assigned through administrative process shall continue to be valid on the terms and conditions on which it had been assigned, for a period of five years from the day the Bill comes into force, or the date of expiry, whichever is earlier.
Breach of Terms and Conditions:
In case of any breach of the terms and conditions of the license, authorization, registration or assignment, the government is entitled to issue cease and abstain orders calling upon the licensee to abstain from doing acts, suspend license, registration, authorization or assignment and necessary take punitive actions.
The penalty amount up to a maximum of 5 crores which can be imposed by the government is defined in the Schedule 4 of the Bill.
It is a mechanism through which a licensee, registered entity, or assignee may voluntarily submit an undertaking to address any breach of terms and conditions. Such an undertaking shall include an undertaking to take specified remedial actions or refrain from taking some actions in a timebound manner. If the undertaking is accepted by the government, then there won’t be any proceedings against the licensee. However, any failure in compliance shall result to penalty.
Right of Way (RoW) for Telecommunication Infrastructure:
The RoW provisions have been simplified and government has granted permission to utilize public property as RoW. In regard to RoW over private property, in case the telecom infrastructure provider fails to achieve RoW requested, DoT is obliged to acquire it to maintain the telecom infrastructure after following due procedure.
Restructuring and Insolvency:
The framework restructuring (mergers, demergers, acquisitions) in the company has been simplified through this Bill by only requiring to intimate the licensing authority (DoT) about the same and comply with the scheme for restructuring as provided under the Companies Act, 2013.
The government shall take back the spectrum allocated to the service provider undergoing insolvency, except where the operator continues to provide services and does not breach the terms of the license.
Through “Regulatory Sandbox” framework, the government seeks to build special terms and conditions of a license, registration, authorization or assignment that allows people to conduct live testing of products and services in a controlled environment. This would encourage and facilitate innovation and technological development in telecommunication.
*The complete extract of the Bill can be accessed here.
**The consultation paper on legal framework date July 2022 can be accessed here.