October 4, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the pros and cons of the Draft Telecom Bill 2022. We also look at Telangana’s bag of awards, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
The Draft Telecom Bill 2022 – A Step In The Right Direction?
Much has been written and said about India’s telecom and media landscape. In various other sectors, with the judgments and questions of courts, it’s easy to see just how many rules and laws present in India are old, colonial in fact. The telecom sector is no different.
To mend that, the government has released the Draft Telecom Bill. The government wants to update the regulatory framework with the times and challenges of the sector. The telecom sector was certainly needing an upgrade in many ways. Will this Bill help bring it into the 21st century? Or is this proposed legislation not what the sector or consumers need?
The government and India’s digital dream is evident. The telecommunications sector will play a big role if those dreams come true. India’s telecom market is the second-largest in the world, overtaking the US in 2019. It now has a subscriber base of more than 1.1 billion. Over the past several years, the sector has grown exponentially. Thanks to the deregulation of FDI norms, it’s one of the fastest-growing sectors.
Here are some numbers to illustrate the sector’s performance. In the first quarter of FY2022, its gross revenue was ₹64,810 crores. As of this April, total subscribers stood at 1.16 billion. If analysts are to be believed, the future of the sector is bright. Over the next five years, mobile phone penetration and lower data costs will add 500 million new internet users.
Then there’s 5G. A few days back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the inaugural 5G services at the India Mobile Congress (IMC). India is now part of an exclusive club that includes the US, South Korea, Japan, the UK, European nations, and China. Soon, if you’ve got a 5G compatible phone, you’ll have access to higher download speeds.
Some things that have held back this sector are regulations, laws, and rules. Among the three pieces of legislation that govern the sector, the most recent one was enacted 70 years ago. These are the 1885 Indian Telegraph Act, the 1933 Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, and the 1950 Telegraph Wires (Unlawful) Possession Act. The Bill, if it becomes law, will replace these and restructure the legal and regulatory framework of the sector.
One thing the Bill does is expand the definition of telecommunication services. It now includes OTT communication services like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, and Google Meet. They’ll now be under the same licensing rules as telecom service providers (TSPs). If a company wants to provide such a service, it’ll need a Unified Access Service Licence (UASL). Hence, they’ll need to retain information like KYC details, adhere to encryption standards, etc.
While the government aims to bring the sector, its functioning, and regulation, to the modern era, does the Bill go too far in government control? Or is it necessary to clean up the sector?
VIEW: Out with the old
If there’s one thing that participants and analysts of the telecom sector have been talking about, it’s the mess. It’s not in the healthiest state. One of the things the Bill aims to do is include new rules to deal with insolvency for stressed assets and waiving off dues for financially stressed companies.
With 5G now coming to a city near you, the Bill has come at the right time. Some of the components of the Bill are 5G infrastructure and spectrum usage. The Bill clearly lays out the policies for spectrum allocation. It allows TSPs to exploit its spectrum fully by sharing, trading, or leasing any unutilised spectrum.
No one likes spam messages and calls. The Bill takes aim at them. It takes broader steps to curb spam messages since India is one of the worst countries impacted by these. The draft says any messages that are advertisements, promote services, or business opportunities can only be sent after a user’s consent. It also recommends more than one ‘Do Not Disturb’ registers to record a user’s consent.
Broadly speaking, the Bill aims to bring the telecom sector into some sort of order. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), representing Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea, termed the Bill reformative. They said it’s another milestone in transforming the sector to a modern one with a future-ready legal framework.
COUNTERVIEW: More than meets the eye
While the government’s intentions of bringing the sector to modern times with its rules, regulations, and regulatory framework are well taken, one needs to dig deeper to see its flaws. What happens to the regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)? If the Bill becomes law, its powers will be reduced. TRAI will be allowed to make recommendations only when requested by the Telecom Department. It’s something the Broadband India Forum (BIF), whose members include Google, Amazon, and Meta, has also said.
Concerning the expansion of and regulation of OTT communication services, this was first talked about in 2015. In 2020, TRAI said there was no need to regulate OTT services. A couple of months back, it was asked to again begin a consultation process on this issue. What’s the use since the Bill proposes that the government reduce its powers?
India has a dubious record concerning freedom of expression with the government’s liberal use of internet shutdowns. The Bill states that internet services can be suspended for public safety. The government has come under criticism by activists and even the Supreme Court, which in January 2020 said such shutdowns should be reviewed. Even a Parliamentary Standing Committee cautioned the government.
Coming to privacy, the Bill is problematic. It contains surveillance provisions for the government. The Supreme Court’s directive on surveillance reforms years ago will likely be diluted. Also, the Bill doesn’t really remove the colonial aspects of the Telegraph Act concerning the interception of information. Not only that, the power now extends to OTT communication services. So much for end-to-end encryption. To make matters worse, India doesn’t have proper data protection laws.
- Telecom Industry in India – IBEF
- India rings in new era, enters select 5G club – link
- Explained | The draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022 – The Hindu
- India proposes to regulate internet communication services – Tech Crunch
- Why A New Telecom Bill Is Necessary And How It Will Help The Sector. EXPLAINED – ABP Live
- Eight gaping gaps the draft telecom bill needs to fill – Moneycontrol
- Crossed wires: Editorial on implications of Modi government’s draft telecom bill 2022 – The Telegraph Online
- Inching towards an Orwellian state: How the new draft telecom bill legally sanctions surveillance without safeguards – The Indian Express
- The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 retains its colonial roots – The Internet Freedom Foundation
- Draft telecom bill proposes suspension of internet services in public interest – Hindustan Times
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Draft Telecom Bill 2022 is a step in the right direction.
b) The Draft Telecom Bill 2022 is a step in the wrong direction.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Self-Styled Hindu Leaders Of Today Should Know, Hatred Is A Grave Spiritual Sin
For the Left:
Mohan Bhagwat’s Right — No Word Wounds Hindus Like Kafir Does
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Train to connect Kashmir valley to the rest of India (Jammu and Kashmir) – Kashmir valley will be connected to the rest of the country through train by 2023 as all the railway projects will be completed and open to the public. The construction of the highest railway bridge in the world is also inching towards completion. It is located on the upper side of Salal Bandh in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir.
Why it matters: The cost-effective railway line will prove to be beneficial for the economy of Jammu and Kashmir in addition to trade, tourism and employment generation. The project will serve as a convenient all-weather mass transportation system thereby acting as a catalyst for the development of the northern alpine region of the country.
Auto drivers protest CNG price hike (Tripura) – The Tripura Natural Gas Corporation (TNGCL) has been accused of hiking the prices of CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) “significantly and abruptly” leading to traffic amidst a protest staged mainly by auto drivers in Agartala on Sunday.
Why it matters: The protestors stated that fuel prices jumped by a little over ₹9. They also said that this protest is a result of many issues. They claimed that auto-rickshaw owners have been asked to pay ₹1 lakh in addition to insurance premiums, maintenance and other charges. The price of CNG has increased to ₹70 per kg which bears a heavy burden on rickshaw owners.
OPD services twice a day in district hospitals (Bihar) – District hospitals in Bihar have been instructed to offer Outpatient Department (OPD) services twice a day as a part of the health department’s plan to make hospitals more patient-friendly. Currently, OPD services run from 9 am to 1 pm but it will now be extended from 3:30 pm to 5 pm.
Why it matters: The health department is implementing this as a part of its ‘Mission 60’ which aims to make district hospitals more patient-friendly while reducing the load on medical colleges and hospitals. Mission 60 was launched to resolve basic issues related to cleanliness, services, and availability of medicines and doctors.
Centre approves over ₹2000 crore for flyovers, road work (Goa) – The Central Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has given the go-ahead for the investment of up to ₹2,228.78 crores for widening roads, building flyovers and land acquisition for ongoing upgradation of highways and related projects in Goa.
Why it matters: Of the ₹2000 crores, ₹690 crores has been allotted for road widening while ₹600 crores will be used for the elevated corridor of highway and ₹922 crores is earmarked for land acquisition. Under the approved MoRTH plan for 2022-23, a 4-lane elevated corridor of 4.6km in length will be constructed at Porvorim.
Telangana bags 14 awards at the Swachh Bharat Diwas (Telangana) – The Swachh Bharat Diwas celebrations organised on Sunday in New Delhi presented 13 awards to Telangana under ‘Swachh Survekshan Grameen’ and an additional award under ‘Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen’ for regulatory functionality of tap connections in rural areas as it has over 60% tap connection coverage.
Why it matters: Among all these awards, the state received the first rank in spreading awareness on biodegradable waste management, first rank in plastic waste management and first rank in grey water management among others.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
93% – A global survey by Mastercard has revealed that 93% of Indians have used digital payment methods over the past year.