The proposed Telecommunications Bill, 2023, introduced by Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, has garnered applause from industry stakeholders for its potential to usher in uniformity in Right of Way (RoW) rules and regulations across states, along with addressing pertinent issues in the telecom sector.
Addressing concerns that have long plagued telecom infrastructure providers, the bill’s provisions encompass a spectrum of key aspects, including capping charges, deemed approval, and deployment of telecom infrastructure on private property, as highlighted by industry leaders.
The Digital Infrastructure Providers Association (DIPA) Director General, T.R. Dua, emphasized the bill’s focus on safeguarding digital infrastructure. Dua noted that the bill prohibits coercive actions against telecommunication networks by public entities without permission from a Central Government authorized officer, except in cases of natural disasters or public emergencies.
A significant stride toward robust telecom networks is the emphasis within the bill on the Right of Way (RoW). It ensures non-discriminatory granting of RoW and explicitly states that such networks won’t attract additional taxes or fees, offering a conducive environment for network expansion.
S.P. Kochhar, Director General of the COAI, highlighted the bill’s preventive measures against coercive actions, applauding its potential to foster a robust digital network nationwide. Kochhar also commended the clarity in penalties, predicting a positive impact on industry confidence and ease of operations.
Replacing ‘license’ with ‘authorization’ streamlines regulatory processes for telecom services, simplifying the operational landscape. Additionally, stringent provisions against unlawful interception of messages or unauthorized access bolster national security measures.
However, legal experts such as Harsh Walia from Khaitan & Co raised concerns about potential overlaps between the bill and existing regulatory frameworks, urging clarity to avoid conflicts among various sectoral regulators.
Notably, the exclusion of Over-The-Top (OTT) players from the definition of telecommunication services offers relief to communication service providers like WhatsApp and Telegram, keeping them outside the ambit of telecom regulations.
Peeyush Vaish, Partner and TMT Industry Leader at Deloitte India, highlighted the bill’s far-reaching implications, anticipating its enactment to replace archaic acts from the late 19th and 20th centuries. He emphasized the bill’s focus on national security and administrative spectrum allocation, signaling significant changes.
Moreover, Shreya Suri from INDUSLAW highlighted the bill’s attempt to expand governmental powers concerning public safety and national security, underscoring the need for balanced checks on these amplified authorities.
The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) praised the bill for excluding internet companies from its final scope, echoing the need to maintain distinctions between regulated spectrum controlling entities and spectrum using companies for continued innovation and internet penetration in India.
IAMAI’s recommendations found resonance in the bill, exempting email, internet-based communication services, broadcasting services, machine-to-machine communication services, and OTT communication services from its purview.
Additionally, the bill’s provisions for administrative assignment of spectrum for Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellites (GMPCS) were hailed by the IAMAI, emphasizing the potential for India to align with global standards and foster growth in the satellite communication sector.
The Indian Space Association (ISpA) Director General, AK Bhatt, underscored the bill’s allocation of satellite spectrum through globally harmonized administrative methods, projecting a transformative impact on India’s space sector and digital economy.