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Updated December 20th, 2023 at 18:14 IST

Telecommunications Bill, 2023 approved by Lok Sabha, next destination RS nod

The tabled Bill repeals the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.

Gauri Joshi
New Telecom Bill introduced in Lok Sabha today
New Telecom Bill introduced in Lok Sabha today | Image:ANI
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The Telecommunications Bill introduced in the Winter Session of the Parliament, has been cleared by the Lok Sabha on late Wednesday and awaits a green flag from the Rajya Sabha. 

The tabled Bill repeals the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.  

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It also amends the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997.

Notably, close to half a hundred opposition leaders have been suspended from the Lower House of the Parliament.

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The industry has lauded the Bill as a “watershed moment” by operators and industry leaders.

According to Akshaya Moondra, CEO, Vodafone Idea Limited, the tabling of the bill marks a watershed moment in the telecom reform process and reaffirms the Central Government’s commitment to the industry.

“The Telecommunications Bill…provides Indian telecom with a future-fit framework that helps achieve the growth aspirations of new India. We warmly welcome the rationalization of penalties and the legal enforceability of right of way provisions, a long-standing request of the industry,” he said.

Moondra also lauds the government for highlighting duties of users.

Notably, British multinational telecom firm Vodafone merged with Aditya Birla-owned Idea network to form Vodafone Idea (VI) due to the price competition after Mukesh Ambani’s Jio entered the spectrum.
Adani Group has also bid for 5G spectrum in the recent auction. VI and Bharti Airtel have questioned the rate monopoly of Jio time and again.

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The Bill also came into light for proposing that the Centre takes temporary possession of telecom services in the interest of national security and provide for a non-auction route for allocation of satellite spectrum.

"On the occurrence of any public emergency, including disaster management, or in the interest of public safety, the central government or a state government or any officer specially authorised in this behalf by the central government or a state government, if satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, by notificationtake temporary possession of any telecommunication service or telecommunication network from an authorised entity," the bill said.

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The Bill also drops OTT from the spectrum of services.

Deloitte India Partner Peeyush Vaish said the removing of OTT players, or apps from the definition of telecommunication services in the bill, gives a huge relief to communication service providers such as WhatsApp and Telegram, which will thus remain out of telecom regulation.

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Notably, the press messages of correspondents accredited to the Centre or state governments will not be intercepted or detained unless their transmission has been prohibited under rules applicable for public emergency or order, as per the Bill.

Lt. Gen. Dr. S.P. Kochhar, Director General, COAI said“The Bill introduced by our progressive Telecom Minister Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw Ji, includes focus on creating robust telecom networks through a well-defined Chapter on Right of Way (RoW), including granting of RoW in a non-discriminatory manner and clarifying that this network shall not be considered for the purposes of tax, levy, cess, fees or duties on that property,” he said.

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In the Bill, ‘license’ has been replaced by ‘authorisation’, mandating its requirement for providing telecommunication services.

“This would simplify overall regulatory landscape for telecom services,” Lt. Gen. Kochhar added.

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The Bill, if passed, will make it mandatory to issue SIM after capturing verifiable biometric data of applicants to prevent misuse, the violation of which will entail a jail term of 3 years or a fine upto Rs 50 lakh.

T.R. Dua, Director-General, Digital Infrastructure Providers Association(DIPA) said the provisions in the bill will bring uniformity across states in terms of Right of Way (RoW) rules and regulations, along with rates.

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“They will also address long-standing issues for telecom infrastructure providers, including capping of charges, deemed approval, and deployment of telecom infrastructure on private property,” he added.

Arvind Bali, CEO, Telecom Sector Skill Council said the development is expected to act as a catalyst for driving the next phase of innovation and growth, contributing to the establishment of a robust digital infrastructure in the country.

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Published December 20th, 2023 at 18:14 IST

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