Telecom law likely to be implemented in 6-10 months, says IT minister

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The new telecom law, which will replace the 137-year-old Indian Telegraph Act, is expected to come into effect within 6-10 months, but the government is in no rush, Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said Friday. The bill also aims to replace the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.

“Based on the consultation process, we will make the final draft. That draft will then go through Parliament’s committee processes. Then it should go (to) Parliament. I see a timeline of 6-10 months, but we’re not in a hurry up,” Vaishnaw said when asked about a timeline for the execution of the final bill.

The minister gave a detailed presentation about the draft bill for more than 36 minutes.

If the bill is passed, over-the-top players like Whatsapp, Zoom and Google Duo, which provide calling and messaging services, may need licenses to operate in the country.

While the government has sought references from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on the internet and voice messaging licensing framework, the bill clearly demonstrates the government’s intention to bring the OTT apps under the licensing regime.

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“OTT is already regulated by the interpretation of what a telegraph is. The consultation process for its regulation has already started. The focus of this bill is that we have to make the regulation light. Where necessary there must be strict effective regulation and in the rest of the places there will be a light touch arrangement,” the minister said.

The bill proposes that all internet calling and messaging apps comply with the Know Your Customers (KYC) provision when covered by the telecom license.

The minister said that the first fundamental idea in the bill is to protect users and that every consumer has the right to know who is calling.

“If calls can be made from different platforms, each platform should be subject to the same kind of regulation. This is not just in India, this is the thinking process all over the world. Technology has brought about so many changes that the distinction between voice calling and data calling has disappeared said Vaishnaw.

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He said KYC standards will also help reduce cyber fraud.

The minister said it is the fundamental duty of users to provide correct information while purchasing services from operators.

The minister said that telecom service providers will have an option to switch to the new rule. The new telecom law proposes a jail term of up to one year for giving a false identity for using telecom services while lowering the maximum penalty for telecom operators to Rs. 5 crore of Rs. 50 crore per circle currently imposed. The fine is expected to range from zero to a maximum of Rs. 5 million.

In the bill, the cabinet has proposed a provision to get rid of tariffs and fines for telecom and internet service providers.

Vaishnaw said the government will focus on continuity of service in case a company goes bankrupt as the spectrum comes back to the government at the end.

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The bill proposes an enabling framework for the Center to address defaults by a licensee, registered entity or assignee.

In extraordinary circumstances, the government may decide to defer payment due, convert some or all of the amounts into equity securities of the entity, write off the amount or any portion thereof, or even waive payment of such amounts or part.

The draft also includes a provision on reimbursement of fees in the event that a telecom or internet provider surrenders its license.


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