Telecom industry in India

  • IASbaba
  • October 15, 2022
  • 0
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Context: With the launch of  5G services in the country at the Indian Mobile Congress 2022 on October 1, 2022 it is hoped the remarkable progress the telecom industry has made, especially in mobile services, will continue.

  • It is indeed timely that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has released the draft Indian Telecommunications Bill 2022, replacing the age old Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. However, though technology has evolved exponentially in the last decade, the draft Bill, disappointingly, lacks a vision for the future.

Brief details about telecom industry in India:

  • The Telecom industry in India is the second largest in the world with a subscriber base of 1.17 billion as of July 2022.
  • India has an overall tele-density of 85.11 %, with the tele-density of the rural market at 58.37% while that of the urban market is at 134.78%.
  • By the end of December 2021, the total number of internet subscribers increased to 829.3 million (narrowband + broadband subscribers), out of which 37.25% of the internet subscribers belong to the rural areas.
  • The number of broadband subscribers has increased to 807.42 million as of July 2022. The average monthly data consumption per wireless data subscriber has also increased by 22,605% to 14.97 GB in December 2021 from 61.66 MB in March 2014.
  • The Telecom sector is the 3rd largest sector in terms of FDI inflows, contributing 6.44% of total FDI inflow, and contributes directly to 2.2 million employment and indirectly to 1.8 million jobs.
  • 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has now been allowed in the Telecom sector under the automatic route.

Positive side of draft Indian Telecommunications Bill 2022:

  • It is stated clearly that any revisions to the telecom policies, including licensing conditions and payment, will not have any retrospective effect. This provides certainty to the firms.
  • Provisions related to verifiable identification of the calling party to be displayed to the receiver to limit the ubiquitous unsolicited commercial calls.
  • The Bill recognises the optimal utilisation of radio spectrum for commercial mobile services and provides the way forward for spectrum trading, sharing, leasing and re-purposing in a technology-neutral manner.
  • The opening up of the option for allocation to assign radio spectrum other than using auctions. This provides opportunities for the government to allocate spectrum using other methodologies such as administrative or beauty parades as applicable in specific use cases.
  • The recognition of telecommunication facility providers and the associated Right of Way (ROW),{ the area around a pipeline or transmission line that is either government- or privately-owned for which you receive permission to work on}enablement for the laying down of the passive infrastructure.
  • The bill has also proposed that if a telecom entity in possession of spectrum goes through bankruptcy or insolvency, the assigned spectrum will revert to the control of the Centre.

Caveats in draft Indian Telecommunications Bill 2022:

Inclusion of Over the Top:

Though the policy makers have attempted to re-define telecommunication services to include all forms of digital communication including Over the Top (OTT) communication and broadcasting services, the way in which this sector is addressed in the Bill severely lacks depth and vision.

Role of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI):

  • The total absence of any modification to the role of the Telecommunications Regulatory of Authority of India (TRAI), except for cosmetic changes to the TRAI Act 1997.
  • The TRAI has done remarkable job as the regulator of this dynamic technologically advanced sector for the past 25 years. The government must provide the much needed autonomy — both financially as well as administrative.
  • The Regulator plays a very important role in shaping the digital communication landscape of the country. The only additional power that has been given to TRAI is the checking of predatory pricing in telecommunications which in fact is an antitrust action and should be in the Competition Commission of India’s (SCCI) ambit and not TRAI.

Centre’s overarching power:

  • The Centre’s overarching power to regulate all aspects of telecommunications in the interest of national security, without appropriate safeguards including the designation of authorities who can issue such orders. This is likely to send jitters to the service providers as well as consumers, so there is a need to clearly indicate the precautionary measures and processes to reduce possible misuse.

Sanctions and penalties:

  • Granular level of details regarding sanctions and penalties in the Bill for deviating conduct of the service providers should be prescribed in the subsequent regulations and rules.

No provisions on cyber security:

  • The draft Bill has no provisions on cyber security of either telecommunications or related infrastructure. This assumes more significance given the fact that India does not have a dedicated law on cyber security. Hence, it becomes even more essential to address issues concerning cyber security in telecommunications.

Way Forward:

  • However, the Bill has only paid lip service to the fast evolving ecosystem. The Bill’s scope should be expanded to address the newly emerging digital communications sector;
  • The sector regulator’s role also needs to be enhanced for appropriate coordination with other related regulators including the soon-to-be enacted Data Protection Authority, CCI and Consumer Protection Authority.
  • The draft Bill represents an important step forward. But there is a need to address the various concerns of the stakeholders, both public and private, in the telecommunication ecosystem in order to enable the legislation to be more effective, relevant and topical.

Source: The Hindu


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