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NEW DELHI : The draft of the new telecom bill may propose to ease merger and acquisition norms and licence conditions and review existing penal provisions and ways of allocating backhaul spectrum and certain bands, two people in the know said. The bill is also likely to address policies relevant to the sector’s structure and would aim to enhance the ease of doing business.

Communications and information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw last week said the government was planning to release the draft by the end of this week, which would mark the fourth wave of reforms.

Some of the existing telecom guidelines were issued at a time when the sector had several operators, but now there are few of them, and new technologies have entered as well, said one of the two officials, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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M&A rules were last notified in 2014, and the National Digital Communications Policy of 2018 also speaks of the need to simplify merger and acquisition norms as part of reforms. A telecom department consultation paper released in July also includes the framework for M&As, under which the government sought to simplify the rules for mergers, demergers and acquisitions, or other forms of restructuring while ensuring compliance with the Companies Act.

“While reform of M&A norms is a good idea, the legislation should not per se focus on the norms for M&A. Instead, the government should ensure that the legislation indicates a clear commitment to robust competition in the sector and leave it to regulators to decide, if necessary, the optimal number of players, etc.," said Mahesh Uppal, director at ComFirst India, a telecom sector regulatory specialist firm.

Penal provisions which attract hefty fines up to 50 crore for not meeting licence conditions could be eased, the second person said. Telcos have been pushing to lower fines for not meeting norms such as those specified for quality of service and network rollouts.

“The telecom legal framework should be world-class. It is going to be the fourth major reform. Draft for consultation will be uploaded by the end of next week, and after that, we will be going for licence conditions reforms," Vaishnaw said at an industry event last week.

The minister had added that the bill would give legal backing for the right-of-way policy to streamline permissions.

The department had amended the right-of-way rules last month aimed at aiding faster 5G rollouts, where caps were fixed for deploying telecom infrastructure set at 1,000 per km for aerial optical fibre cable, 300 per annum for urban areas, 150 for rural areas per street furniture, and 1,000 per pole for the setting up small cells on poles.

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