The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Telecommunications Bill, 2023 by a voice vote without any substantive debate as the Opposition benches remained largely empty with as many as 97 MPs having been suspended from the House.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Communications and IT who presented the Bill, said, “The Bill will promote structural reforms in the telecom sector…The bill will usher in the biggest reforms in the sector…Now, there will be one simple authorisation instead of 100 licences.” There is a provision for four-tier dispute resolution which will help in reducing litigation in the sector.

The Bill will also “strengthen the legal system for dealing with cyber-security issues,” he said, adding that there will also be provision for regulatory sandbox which will encourage innovation.

The approved Bill will allow the government to temporarily take control of telecom services in the interest of national security, and providing a non-auction route for the allocation of satellite spectrum. It can be mentioned that non-auction route for satellite spectrum is in line with the demand of global satellite services companies and reject the argument made by domestic telecom players Reliance Jio and Vodafone-Idea for allocation of spectrum for commercial use through the auction route.

As per the Bill, which will replace the 138-year-old Telegraph Act of 1885, “the Central government shall assign spectrum for telecommunication through auction except for entries listed in the First Schedule for which assignment shall be done by administrative process.

The first schedule has 19 cases for which spectrum will be assigned through the administrative process including global mobile personal communication by satellites (GMPS), National Long-Distance and International Long-Distance Services, Mobile Satellite Services, VSAT, In-Flight and Maritime Connectivity, BSNL and MTNL.

The Bill was first tabled in the Lok Sabha on Monday (December 18) and since then mixed reactions have been coming from the global telecom and Internet societies.

For instance, Internet Society, an American non-profit advocacy organisationon Wednesday said that the Bill does not make an explicit distinction between traditional telecom services that use spectrum – a scarce, finite public resource – and Internet-based services deployed over the general-purpose Internet.

“This fundamentally alters their governance, risking regulatory overreach and overlap, especially as Internet-based services are already governed by the IT Act (soon to be replaced by the Digital India Act) under the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY),” it said.

Internet services

The Bill imposes onerous requirements on Internet services, no matter their size – including requiring authorisation from the government to continue operations, and mandatory contributions to the Digital Bharat Nidhi, it said.

“This will frustrate the open, global Internet, which is the backbone of India’s thriving digital economy…The Bill must contain provisions for distinguishing between traditional telecom services and Internet-based services. End-to-end encrypted services must not be compelled to create exceptional access for law enforcement,” it added.

Meanwhile, Vaishnaw also said that the State-owned BSNL will emerge as a new and capable organisation, adding that the government has provided a package of ₹1.64-lakh crore to the entity.

“Now, BSNL is making operating profit…and about after a year, BSNL will become a strong and capable entity…The Modi government is standing like a rock behind MTNL and BSNL,” he added.

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *