The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has extended the deadline for submission of comments on the draft telecom bill, 2022, to October 30 instead of October 20, after requests from various stakeholders. “In response to requests received from several stakeholders, the ministry has decided to extend the last date for receipt of comments till October 30,” a DoT notification says.

The telecom draft bill, released on September 21, 2022, proposes to widen the definition of “telecommunication services” to include over-the-top (OTT) services and internet-based communication services. The existing regulatory framework for the telecom sector is based on the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. The nature of telecom, its usage and technologies have undergone a massive change since the era of telegraph. The new bill is likely to be tabled in the winter session of Parliament.

The new telecom bill proposed a provision to waive any fee, interest and penalties of telecom service providers. It also proposed a provision for refund of fees in case a telecom provider surrenders its licence.

The Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, will also bring down the time for licensing to 28 days and usher in an online licensing system, as per telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnav. He also said the protection of users’ would not be limited to landline and normal voice calls but calls made via WhatsApp, Zoom and FaceTime will also be included in the new telecom bill.

In case of insolvency, the spectrum assigned an entity will revert to government control. To prevent cyber-frauds done using telecom services, provisions related to identity have been included in the bill at relevant places.

The draft bill also enables a legal framework for preventing harassment of users from unsolicited calls and messages. To prevent cyber frauds, the bill provides the identity of the person sending a message will also be available to a user. "The identity of a person sending a message using telecommunication services shall be available to the user receiving such message, in such form as may be prescribed.”

The government has proposed one year of imprisonment for anyone who engages in giving false identity while availing the telecom services.

Notably, India has the world’s second largest telecommunication ecosystem, with 117 crore subscribers. The telecom sector employs over 4 million people and contributes about 8% of the country’s GDP.

While preparing the draft, relevant legislations in Australia, the European Union, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and the United States of America were also examined. The bill aims to consolidate and amend the existing laws governing provision, development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services, networks and infrastructure and assignment of spectrum.

The draft telecom bill comes amid the soft launch of 5G services by India’s two biggest telecom operators -- Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel – in India. During the recently-held 5G spectrum auctions, 51,236 MHz worth of spectrum was allocated to telecom companies. The government says the overall economic impact of 5G on India is expected to reach $450 billion by 2035.

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