HomeBusinessDraft telecom bill proposes to waive dues, license OTT apps

Draft telecom bill proposes to waive dues, license OTT apps

Platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix may come under the purview of telecom services that require license

Platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix may come under the purview of telecom services that require license

The government has released the draft ‘The Indian Telecommunication Act, 2022’, in which it has proposed several important changes, including provisions for waiving dues for financially stressed operators, over-the-top platforms (such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix). Within the scope of telecommunications services that require a license to operate and the provision of message interception in case of public emergency.

The draft bill, which was released late Wednesday night inviting comments from stakeholders, includes the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wire (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950 to replace the existing legal framework. has been attempted. Currently control the telecommunications sector.

“It is not just a regulator as large as the government and regulated the industry, but an interactive system in which the concerns of the industry are addressed by the government and the concern of the government is duly taken into account by the industry. This is important because We have to look at the safety of the users…,” Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnav said on Thursday.

The explanatory note on the draft bill said that it aims to consolidate and amend the existing laws governing the provision, development, expansion and operation of network and infrastructure of telecom services and allocation of spectrum.

“Spectrum is a valuable and inexhaustible natural resource, which has an element of public good. Therefore, it is important to ensure efficient use and management of spectrum…,” the Center said in the note.

The draft bill proposes a special framework to address default in payment by the licensee or registered entity wherein, under “extraordinary circumstances”, the government may defer the payment of such amounts, part or all of the amounts in one go. may be allowed to change. Shares in the Licensee or even write-off of such amounts.

The draft bill also simplifies the merger, demerger and acquisition framework, which would require entities to follow the scheme for restructuring provided under the Companies Act, 2013, and would only need to be reported to the DoT. Further, if the licensee is going through insolvency proceedings, he can continue to operate if he continues to provide telecom services and does not default on payment of dues. However, if the unit is unable to comply, the assigned spectrum will return to the control of the government. It also seeks to “discourage” the acquisition of spectrum at a price less than the auction-fixed price.

The draft bill proposes to refund the fee in case the telecom or internet provider surrenders its license.

The Bill expanded the definition of “telecommunication services” to include broadcasting services, e-mail, video and data communication services, satellite-based communication services, Internet-based communication services and over-the-top (OTT) services, among others. be extended. While the explanatory note states that “an entity must obtain a licence” to provide telecom services, the draft Bill has a clause that allows exemption from the requirement of license and registration in the public interest.

Further, it states that in case of any public emergency and in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity or security of India, the Central or State Government shall have the power to direct that certain messages “shall not be transmitted, or intercepted”. or the officer mentioned in such order has been detained or disclosed”. However, “press messages published in India by correspondents accredited to the Central Government or State Government shall not be intercepted or detained unless their transmission has been prohibited.”

Noting that every telecom user wants to know who is calling, the government said it has incorporated provisions related to identity to help prevent cyber frauds using telecom services. “Users also need protection against calls they want to avoid. The Bill enables a legal framework to prevent harassment of users from unwanted calls and messages,” the government explained in the note. The Bill states, “The identity of the person sending the message using telecommunication services shall be available to the user receiving such message, as may be prescribed.”

Prashant Tarwadi, director – corporates, India Ratings and Research, said the draft bill provides clarity on two important aspects – insolvency proceedings for stressed telecom companies and over-the-top (OTT) and Internet service providers (OTTs) under the umbrella ISP). Ministry of Telecommunications. “The draft bill states that the ownership of spectrum remains with the government, and the value of spectrum cannot be sold by creditors under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). The government reserves the right to take back the spectrum if the ailing telecom operator fails to pay the government dues.

However, he added that this may further delay resolution of large telecom operators as “there has been considerable delay in payment of government dues by such telecom companies and a significant part of the debt of telecom companies is towards spectrum dues due to the government.” “.

Kazim Rizvi, founder of Delhi-based think tank The Dialogue, pointed out that OTT services are currently regulated under the IT Act which is better suited to govern OTT and digital platforms. Bringing them under telecom services “will have a significant impact on innovation in the sector due to licensing requirements, additional compliance burden and associated costs”.

“Secondly, the power of the State and Central Government to order interception … shall now apply to messaging platforms that provide encrypted services. It is still unclear how this provision will work on platforms where they themselves do not keep any record of the communication. Further, the discretionary powers conferred under the draft bill without adhering to the requirement and proportionality mandate envisaged in the Puttaswamy judgment may give rise to cases of uncontrolled surveillance,” Mr Rizvi said.

The bill also dilutes the powers of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and removed the parts in which the government had to seek recommendations from the authority before issuing a licence, as well as to government officials not below the rank of secretary to the chairman. The existing restriction on appointing was removed. and Additional Secretary, Mr. Rizvi noted. “These changes will affect the autonomy and functioning of the authority,” he said.

(EOM)

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