Telecom Bill 2023

Telecom Bill 2023

Based on a recommendation by the President under Article 117 (1) of the Indian constitution, the Telecommunications Bill of 2023 made its debut in the Lok Sabha on December 18, 2023 and passed by Lok Sabha on December 20, 2023.

The telecom bill was first released in 2022, but the central government tabled it due to unknown reasons.

The Telecom Bill 2023 empowers the government to assume control over telecommunications services, permitting message interception in the interest of national security and during emergencies.

Its primary objectives include the regulation of telecommunication activities by encompassing internet-based calling and messaging apps (like WhatsApp, Telegram) within the definition of telecommunications. This expansion aims to bolster user safety.

Furthermore, the bill aims to annul:

  1. the 138-year-old Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, 
  2. the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, and 
  3. the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act of 1950
Additionally, amendments are proposed for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act of 1997.

Another important provision of the Telecommunications Bill, 2023 for the common man is that it  makes it mandatory for companies to issue SIMs after obtaining verified biometric data from the user. 

It also stipulates up to three years in prison or a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh for obtaining a SIM or other telecom resource by deception, deception, or impersonation.

Key Propositions in the Telecom Bill of 2023

Assignment of Spectrum:

Spectrum refers to the range of electromagnetic radio frequencies used to transmit data wirelessly, including radio, TV, mobile phones, and other communication technologies, enabling the propagation of information through the airwaves.

Spectrum allocation will occur through auctions and will be allocated on an administrative basis, except for specific purposes like:

  • national security and defense, 
  • disaster management, 
  • weather forecasting, 
  • transport, 
  • satellite services such as DTH and satellite telephony, and 
  • BSNL, MTNL, and public broadcasting services.

The government reserves the right to repurpose or reassign frequency ranges and permit spectrum sharing, trading, leasing, and surrender.

This segment of the Telecom Bill will enable administrative allocation of spectrum for satellite broadband services, aligning India with global norms for spectrum assignment.

This change could significantly benefit companies like Bharti Airtel’s OneWeb, Elon Musk’s Starlink, and Amazon’s Kuiper.

Authorization for Telecom-related Activities:

At present, the telecom department administers over 100 varieties of licenses, registrations, and permissions. The proposed Bill aims to consolidate numerous categories into a unified authorization process.

Central government authorization will be mandatory for:
  • provide telecommunication services,
  • establish, operate, maintain, or expand telecommunications networks, or
  • possess radio equipment.
Existing licenses will continue to be valid for the period of their grant, or for five years, where the period is not specified.

User Protection:

The central government may institute measures safeguarding users, including -

  • prior consent for receiving specific messages (e.g., advertisements), 
  • establishing "Do Not Disturb" registries, and 
  • setting up mechanisms for reporting malware or particular messages.

Telecom service providers must create online avenues for registering and addressing grievances.

Interception and Search Powers:

Messages or specific message categories between individuals may be intercepted, monitored, or blocked under certain circumstances. 

Such actions are deemed necessary in the interest of public safety, emergencies, and for specified reasons like state security, prevention of incitement, or maintaining public order. Telecom services may be suspended under similar grounds. 

The government holds the authority to temporarily acquire any telecom infrastructure, network, or services during public emergencies or for public safety. 

Authorized officers may conduct searches in premises or vehicles for unauthorized telecom networks or equipment.

Right of Way:

  • Telecom facility providers can request permission to access (Right of way) public or private property for establishing telecom infrastructure.
  • Right of way should be granted impartially and without exclusivity to the maximum extent feasible.

TRAI Appointments:

The bill amends the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997 to also allow individuals with:
  • at least 30 years of professional experience to serve as the chairperson and
  • at least 25 years of professional experience to serve as members.
The conditions of the Bill clearly state that the TRAI Chairman and its members can be appointed from the private sector as well.

Adjudication Process:

The central government will designate an adjudicating officer to investigate and issue rulings concerning civil offenses outlined in the Bill. This officer must hold the position of joint secretary or higher.

Rulings made by the adjudicating officer can be challenged before the Designated Appeals Committee within 30 days. Committee members must hold a rank of at least Additional Secretary.

For appeals related to breaches of terms and conditions, parties may file appeals with TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal) within 30 days against the Committee's orders.

Offenses & Penalties:

The bill outlines various criminal and civil offenses.

  • Providing telecom services without authorization, or gaining unauthorized access to a telecom network or data, are punishable with imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of up to two crore rupees, or both.
  • Breaching terms and conditions of authorization is punishable with a civil penalty of up to five crore rupees.
  • Possessing unauthorized equipment, or using an unauthorized network or service, is punishable with a penalty of up to ten lakh rupees.

Digital Bharat Nidhi

Under this bill, the Indian government renamed the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to Digital Bharat Nidhi. The funds collected by the Digital Bharat Nidhi will first be credited to the Consolidated Fund of India.

Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)

The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) is a government fund established in India to facilitate the spread of telecommunication services to rural and remote areas where the provision of such services might not be commercially viable for service providers. 

The primary objective of the USOF is to ensure the availability of affordable and quality telecom services to all parts of the country, bridging the digital divide and promoting widespread access to communication facilities.

It supports initiatives and projects aimed at expanding and improving telecom infrastructure in underserved regions.

Currently, USOF has surplus cash of around 78,000 crores, the majority of which lies unutilized.

Criticisms of Telecom Bill 2023

Privacy Concerns: 

 Increased government control over interception and monitoring of communications may raise concerns about invasion of privacy and potential abuse of power potentially leading to a Orwellian surveillance state.

Pointing to potential privacy infringement, Member of Parliament Ritesh Pandey opposed the bill introduction also on the ground that it violated the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in K.S. Puttaswamy (2017), in which the right to privacy was recognized as a facet of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Data Security and Misuse:

Concerns about the security of collected data including biometric data and the potential for misuse, hacking, or breaches leading to sensitive information falling into unauthorized hands.

Complete Bill can be read from Here

📝 SideNotes:

  • World Telecom Day – May 17.
  • Theme of World Telecom Day 2023 – Empowering the least developed countries through information and communication technologies.
  • Union telecom and IT minister – Ashwini Vaishnaw.
  • Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) – Anil Kumar Lahoti.
  • Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI)
    • Founded – 2004.
    • Headquarters – Mumbai.
    • a not-for-profit representative body of approximately 600 internet firms and start-ups.
  • Other important bills passed by Lok Sabha on December 20, 2023 – 3 criminal bills replacing the colonial Indian Penal Code and the CrPC.  
    • The Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023, 
    • the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita, 2023, 
    • the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill, 2023.
Thanks for reading!!!