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Telecommunications Bill 2023

  • 20 Dec 2023
  • 8 min read

For Prelims: Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Telecommunication services, SpaceX's Starlink, TRAI, Universal Service Obligation Fund, Digital Bharat Nidhi, Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, Bharatnet project, Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme, Bharat 6G Alliance

For Mains: Telecommunications Bill 2023, Status of the Telecom Sector in India.

Source: BL

Why in News?

Recently, the government introduced the Telecommunications Bill 2023 in the Lok Sabha. It seeks to repeal the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950. It also amends the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997.

What are the Key Provisions of Telecommunications Bill 2023?

  • Authorisation for Telecom-related Activities: Prior authorisation from the central government will be required to provide telecommunication services, establish, operate, maintain, or expand telecommunications networks, or possess radio equipment.
    • Existing licenses will continue to be valid for the period of their grant, or for five years, where the period is not specified.
  • Assignment of Spectrum: Spectrum will be assigned by auction, except for specified uses, where it will be allocated on an administrative basis. These include purposes such as national security and defense, disaster management, weather forecasting, transport, satellite services such as DTH and satellite telephony, and BSNL, MTNL, and public broadcasting services.
    • The central government may re-purpose or re-assign any frequency range. The central government may also permit sharing, trading, leasing, and surrender of spectrum.
  • Satellite Internet Allotments: The Bill introduces provisions for allocating spectrum to satellite Internet providers like OneWeb (supported by Bharti) and U.S.-based companies such as SpaceX's Starlink.
    • Presently, active authorizations have been granted to OneWeb and Jio, paving the way for satellite-based Internet services.
  • Powers of Interception and Search: Messages or a class of messages between two or more persons may be intercepted, monitored, or blocked on certain grounds.
    • Such actions must be necessary or expedient in the interest of public safety or public emergency, and must be in the interest of specified grounds which include: security of the state, prevention of incitement of offenses, or public order.
    • Telecom services may be suspended on similar grounds. The government may take temporary possession of any telecom infrastructure, network, or services on occurrence of any public emergency or public safety.
      • An officer authorized by the government may search premises or vehicles for possession of unauthorized telecom networks or equipment.
  • Powers to Specify Standards: The central government may prescribe standards and assessments for telecom equipment, infrastructure, networks, and services.
  • Right of Way: Facility providers may seek a right of way over public or private property to establish telecom infrastructure.
    • Right of way must be provided on a non-discriminatory and non-exclusive basis to the extent possible.
  • Protection of Users: The central government may provide for measures to protect users which include: prior consent to receive specified messages such as advertising messages, creation of Do Not Disturb registers, and a mechanism to allow users to report malware or specified messages.
    • Biometric Authentication is mandatory for telecom customers to combat spam calls and messages.
    • Entities providing telecom services must establish an online mechanism for registration and redressal of grievances.
  • Appointments to TRAI: The Bill amends the TRAI Act to also allow individuals with: at least 30 years of professional experience to serve as the chairperson, and at least 25 years of professional experience to serve as members.
  • Digital Bharat Nidhi: The Universal Service Obligation Fund has been established under the 1885 Act to provide for telecom services in underserved areas.
    • The Bill retains this provision, renames the fund as Digital Bharat Nidhi, and also allows its use for research and development.
  • Regulation of OTT Apps: It has removed over-the-top (OTT) services and apps from the definition of telecommunication services, in a big relief to communication service providers such as WhatsApp and Telegram.
    • The Ministry of Electronics and IT will handle the regulation of OTT apps under the potential Digital India Act, not included in the Telecom Bill.
  • Offenses and Penalties: The Bill specifies various criminal and civil offenses. Providing telecom services without authorisation, or gaining unauthorized access to a telecom network or data, are punishable with imprisonment up to three years, a fine up to two crore rupees, or both.
    • Breaching terms and conditions of authorisation is punishable with a civil penalty up to five crore rupees.
    • Possessing unauthorized equipment, or using unauthorized network or service, is punishable with a penalty of up to ten lakh rupees.
  • Adjudication Process: The central government will appoint an adjudicating officer to conduct inquiries and pass orders against civil offenses under the Bill.
    • The officer must be of the rank of joint secretary and above.
    • Orders of the adjudicating officer may be appealed before the Designated Appeals Committee within 30 days.
    • Appeals against the orders of the Committee, in connection to breach of terms and conditions, may be filed with Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) within 30 days.
  • Trusted Sources Regime: A measure initially established post the India-China border conflict in 2020 to prevent the importation of telecom equipment from potentially adversarial nations is now integrated into the law.

What is the Status of the Telecom Sector in India?

  • Status:
    • The Telecom industry in India is the second largest in the world with a subscriber base of 1.179 Billion as of August 2023 (wireless + wireline subscribers).
      • It is also the 4th largest sector in terms of FDI inflows, contributing 6% of total FDI inflow.
    • India has an overall tele-density of 84.69%. Tele-density denotes the number of telephones per 100 population, and is an important indicator of telecom penetration.
      • The average monthly data consumption per wireless data subscriber has also increased to 17.36 GB in March 2023 from 61.66 MB in March 2014.
  • Related Government Initiatives:
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