India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has produced a draft Indian Telecommunications 2022 bill, for which it has invited comment.
Among the provisions of the bill are one relating to spectrum assignment; this can now happen through auction or administrative process. The proposed bill also permits the waiving of fees, charges and penalties of any company if required to protect the interest of consumers or to ensure fair competition.
On matters of payment and compliance the bill proposes the return of spectrum to government in the event of a spectrum holder’s insolvency. It also suggests the revoking of a licence and imposition of various penalties if conditions are breached. However, there are exceptions that may encourage offenders to repay debts or remedy any breach of licence conditions.
Sharing, trading, leasing and surrender of spectrum are also permitted subject to various terms and conditions. The mandate of the universal service obligation fund has also been widened. It now includes the provisioning of services to urban areas, R&D, skill development and support of pilot projects. A number of national security-related considerations are also outlined.
Most interesting perhaps is that the definition of telecommunication services now includes over-the-top (OTT) communication services such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, satellite-based communication services, internet and broadband services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services.
The draft bill has been well received by private operators. SP Kochhar, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), quoted in a number of press reports, has described it as “ another milestone step to develop a modern and future-ready legal framework in telecommunication”, though we’ll have to wait for COAI’s more detailed assessment. The bill has been put up for public consultation and stakeholders can send their comments by 20 October.
Many of the provisions may seem fairly predictable, but it’s worth remembering that the bill is updating the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933, both of which will be repealed. Concepts like OTT and spectrum assignment were unknown in those times.