Government introduces Telecommunications (Telecom) Bill 2023, Explained…

Government introduces Telecommunications (Telecom) Bill 2023

The Telecommunications (Telecom) Bill 2023 amends and consolidates the laws relating to “development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services and telecommunication networks; assignment of spectrum; and for matters connected therewith”.

The new Bill seeks to replace the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.

According to its statement of objectives and reasons, “Telecommunication sector is a key driver of economic and social development. It is the gateway to digital services. Security of our country is vitally dependent on safety of telecommunication networks. Therefore, there is a need to create a legal and regulatory framework that focuses on safe and secure telecommunication network that provides for digitally inclusive growth.

It adds: “The nature of telecommunication, its usage and underlying technologies have undergone massive changes, especially in the past decade. Therefore, there is a need for enacting a legislation for telecom sector that serves the needs of our society.

The Bill allows the government to take over telecom services and intercept messages in the interests of national security and in case of emergencies.

The Bill says: “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 authorized in this behalf by the Central Government or a State Government. If satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, by notification –

  1. Take temporary possession of any telecommunication service or telecommunication network from an authorized entity; or
  2. Provide for appropriate mechanism to ensure that messages of a user or group of users authorized for response and recovery during public emergency are routed on priority.

It further says that “on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety“, the central or state government, “In the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, defense and security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any offence“, Direct that messages “transmitted or received by any telecommunication service or telecommunication network, shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained, or shall be disclosed in intelligible format to the officer mentioned in such order.”

Exception for Press/Media:

About press messages, it specifically says, “The press messages, intended to be published in India, of correspondents accredited to the Central Government or a State Government, shall not be intercepted or detained, unless their transmission has been prohibited” under relevant rules.

Under the new Bill, the government can also ask telecommunication services to transmit specific messages. “If it appears necessary or expedient so to do in the public interest, the Central Government may direct any authorized entity to transmit in its telecommunication services or telecommunication network, specific messages, in such manner as may be specified.” the Bill says.

What about Online Calls ?

Government introduces Telecommunications (Telecom) Bill 2023

To enhance the user safety, the Telecommunications Bill aims to bring over-the-top or the internet based calling and messaging apps under the definition of telecommunications.

Telecom Bill 2023 effects on TRAI:

Government introduces Telecommunications (Telecom) Bill 2023

The Bill aims to limit the power of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Instead of the licensing regime of the past, the new Bill text refers only to ‘authorizations‘ that will have to be obtained by telecom operators and other providers of telecom services.

The Bill also has provisions allowing telcos to “refarm” spectrum, or use it for other technologies than initially intended when they bought it.

For instance, 4G spectrum can be repurposed for 5G under the Bill’s provisions. Spectrum can also be “harmonized”, or strategically shared across different geographies by different telecom providers, and it can be surrendered if lying unused. This, the person said, would enable airwaves to be used optimally.

The Universal Service Obligation Fund, which disburses funds for underserved areas that are not yet connected with telecom services, will be renamed as the “Digital Bharat Nidhi,” according to the Bill.

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