The Indian digital revolution is progressing at breakneck speed. But, one of the primary factors holding it back is the age-old laws that govern the telecommunications sector. So, late last year, the communications minister proposed a new bill, keeping in mind the objectives of empowering the users and digital reformation.
This new bill was not met with the glorious responses that the telecom industry expected. Rather, almost 900 comments were made on it by stakeholders and industry heads, suggesting various changes and even suggesting that the new bill be scrapped entirely.
The primary reason for this backlash is the fact that the new bill, if passed, will give the ministry far greater power than the various operating platforms and even TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). While this move may seem dangerous, layers within it need to be unraveled.
The OTT Game Plan
The largest resistance to the new telecom bill seems to be coming from the OTT (over-the-top) communication service providers such as Whatsapp, Telegram, Skype, etc. Currently, these service providers operate under the IT Act (soon to be replaced by the Digital India act).
If their operations shift under the telecommunications bill, it will mean they have to buy a separate telecom license and also pay a higher amount of taxes on their operations. This will apply especially to video-based telecom platforms, some of whom have already started seeking out such licenses.
But, the broad level of dissatisfaction from the OTT operators against the new telecom bill has the telecom ministry trying to find the necessary reforms to it. Recently, they have announced that the bill will not seek to reduce the autonomy of these platforms. However, if the bill is passed, it will give the government’s law enforcement agencies the power to intercept OTT communications.
TRAI is also dead set against the new telecom bill, even though the Department of Telecommunications had sought out recommendations from TRAI. The truth is that when the bill’s first draft was presented, TRAI had recommended a number of reforms to the ministry, including the case of the OTT platforms. But, the DoT went ahead without making these reforms and presented the bill on the floor anyway.
And now, we have a whole country of telecom industrialists against a move that is seemingly being portrayed as a move towards better digitalization. We will keep you posted on more developments in this story as it unfolds!