Like the rest of the world, India is on an accelerated digital path. But the core industry facilitating it, telecommunications, is itself governed by archaic laws, one of which dates back to 1885.
So a new telecom Bill was proposed in September to churn this vast digital ocean, where incumbent telcos, influential Big Tech, and everyone in between are figuring out their sink-or-swim fates. Public comments were invited, and the deadline was extended to 20 November.
The public response to the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, has been enormous. The ministry of communications, The Ken has learnt, received a record number of comments: 900. These comments are yet to be public, though. Officials tell The Ken that an amended draft based on the feedback received will be shared before 10 December.
Ever since the draft Bill was made public, the communications minister Ashwini Vaishnav has gone to great lengths to state the key objectives of the proposed bill. One, to empower users (read: telecom subscribers); two, to reform the century-old regulatory framework.
Incidentally, in the name of reforms, the draft Bill proposes greater power to the ministry, especially with respect to the governance of over-the-top (OTT) communication apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, Telegram, and others. It will also have enhanced power, effectively overriding the telecom regulator—Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai)—itself, and writing off dues owed to the government by private or public entities.
It’s therefore not surprising that the draft Bill has divided the industry and other stakeholders down the middle. The telcos are pleased. Everyone else, including the US-based tech companies, the two ministries of commerce and electronics and IT, Trai, and the non-profits, is visibly opposed to the draft Bill.
Some of the provisions are controversial. In particular, one pertains to narrowing the role and scope role and scope The Ken Toothless Tiger: Between court cases, Trai can’t regulate the industry Read more of Trai, and the other intends to regulate the communication OTT services.
This is also why officials are confident that the revised draft Bill will have significant deviations in both these provisions.
The ministry is already on the back foot. Vaishnaw has been giving media interviews interviews Business Standard Big portion of Telecom Bill to be implemented by Trai: Ashwini Vaishnaw Read more , clarifying that the proposed law doesn’t curtail the regulator’s power and that there will only be “light touch” regulation for communication OTT services.