Why Does Everyone Hate the Draft Telecom Bill 2022?
Two months ago, the Indian government released a draft of the Telecommunication Bill, 2022. The Centre believes the time has come to update some of the outdated laws in the telecom sector. While it has some good intentions (well, sort of), the draft bill received a lot of criticism and backlash. If this bill is approved, the government could even indirectly force you to pay for using services like WhatsApp!
In this article, we dive into the Draft Telecom Bill and see why it has become so controversial.
What is the Draft Telecom Bill 2022?
The Draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022, is an attempt by the Indian government to modernise the existing regulatory framework in the telecom sector. The new bill aims to replace three existing acts: the Indian Telegraph Act (1885), Wireless Telegraphy Act (1933), and Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act (1950).
As we know, India’s telecom sector has gone through a wide range of technological advancements and challenges over the past few decades. So it’s vital to modify outdated regulations and form new ones to keep up with all the rapid changes. According to our government, the new bill aims for “minimum but effective regulation of the telecom sector.”
Key Features of the Draft Telecom Bill, 2022:
- There’s a proposal to bring over-the-top (OTT) communications services or apps under telecom services. WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Meet, and other internet-based apps/software may have to obtain licenses to operate in our country! However, it’s still not clear what comes under “OTT services.”
- The bill brings clarity around spectrum allocation. [A spectrum is a range of radio waves used for communication.] It would strengthen the government’s authority to assign spectrum, with or without auctions. The govt may also relax rules around sharing, trading, and leasing spectrum.
- The draft bill also includes a provision for the govt to defer, write off, or grant relief to any telecom operator or firm that is facing financial stress. This would benefit struggling firms like Vodafone Idea.
- There will be strict measures to check and verify documents required to acquire a SIM or create accounts on OTT communication platforms. Know Your Customer (KYC) will become mandatory for user verification. Forging documents may lead to imprisonment of one year or a fine of up to ₹50,000. Telecom operators will have to display the name of the caller when only the phone number is visible (like Truecaller)!
- The draft bill proposes an efficient way to resolve disputes through arbitration or mediation (settling issues outside courts).
So Why Are People Angry?
Ever since the draft bill was published in September 2022, a large number of stakeholders within the digital ecosystem in India have taken to social media and other platforms to show their outrage against the draft bill! Many feel that the new rules are likely to kill the progress of the government’s own vision of a Digital India. Let’s see how these proposed laws could affect you:
- Messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram allow crores of Indians to send texts and make video calls via the internet (for free). There are no barriers for such platforms to enter the Indian market and don’t have to pay any fees to provide such services. They don’t have any obligation to share user data with the government.
- On the other hand, telecom service providers like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have to pay huge fees to the Central govt to use spectrum (airwaves) and provide voice & data services. You and I pay for data packs to access the internet, send messages via WhatsApp, and watch movies/TV shows on OTT platforms like Netflix.
- But now, the Central government wants to bring all companies that provide broadcasting services, e-mail services, voice & data services, internet & broadband services, and OTT communication services under its control/purview! It wants such companies/apps to obtain a license to operate in India!
- Here’s a more shocking proposal mentioned in the draft bill: messaging apps/platforms (which implement end-to-end encryption) may even be required to intercept and disclose any message at the request of the govt! Surely a blatant invasion of privacy.
The Way Ahead
Now, suppose the proposed bill becomes law. The government can essentially levy hefty fees on existing companies (like WhatsApp, Google Meet) to obtain a license and offer services in India. And how would WhatsApp recover these fees? From users like you and me! Such strict laws and fees will also discourage new companies or developers from rolling out path-breaking apps or software to the public! It would kill innovation and digital transformation in our country!
Now, you may wonder why the government has even proposed such strict measures in the telecom sector. Well, they want to improve national security through “lawful” interception! The Centre argues that bringing platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram under its purview could help identify criminals or terrorists. But interestingly, many people have pointed out that there’s already a section in the current Information Technology (IT) Act that allows the government to issue directions to digital communications apps and monitor messages! So realistically, there’s not really a need for new licensing laws!
The government needs to go back to the drawing board and ensure that the new provisions under the Telecom Bill support all forms of innovation for a greater Digital India! What are your thoughts on the government’s Draft Telecom Bill? Let us know in the comments section of the marketfeed app.