Home / Politics / Policy /  Communications Bill proposes to overhaul telecom sector

New Delhi: The Communications Bill that the government is working on will overhaul the way the telecom sector is currently regulated.

The draft legislation proposes to reduce the government’s role in economic regulation and instead focus on issues such as security, morality, public safety, disaster management and ensuring that there is adequate competition and optimal usage of spectrum, a limited natural resource, according to a Department of Telecommunications (DoT) presentation, reviewed by Mint.

The new Bill aims to repeal all four laws that govern the telecom sector currently. These include the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885; the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933; the Telegraph Wires (unlawful possession) Act, 1950, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act of 1997, according to the presentation.

Other laws that will be modified include the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and Information Technology Act 2000.

The Bill will be finalised by the end of November after which the public consultation and inter ministerial consultation should be completed by the end of June next year, a senior Department of Telecommunications official said. The Bill is expected to get the approval of the Cabinet by the end of September 2015.

The new law will be similar to the communications convergence Bill that was introduced in Parliament in August 2001 by the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The Bill, however, lapsed with the dissolution of Parliament in January 2004.

The new Bill is also being drafted keeping in mind global regulations, including those of Ofcom (the UK) and China among many others.

According to the presentation, the new Bill will take into account the changing trends of the communication sector, globally and include new areas like information management, authentication and even financial management.

The Bill proposes that the government will only regulate where the scope of competition is low or in the case of anti-competitive behaviour and to ensure non-discriminatory access and net neutrality with reasonable restrictions.

The Bill will also address right of way issues (across the country) that is the main challenge to network providers and tower companies.

The Bill is also expected to create a communications commission, with combined powers of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). One of the key demands of Trai is that it does not have the power to prosecute and penalise.

The proposed legislation does not say how it will solve the problems being faced by various sectors, said Mahesh Uppal, a regulatory expert and director with Com First India Ltd.

“A convergence of regulation sounds good, but it does not say how it will solve the issues being faced," said Uppal.

“For instance, Trai is in a grey area when it comes to regulating broadcasting as is the case when it recommended that political parties cannot have TV channels which is indirectly regulating content,"he said.

“Trai is a carriage regulator and not competent enough to regulate content. There is a need for a converged regulator at this time—where a call can be made using a phone or Internet service."

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