Draft telecom Bill: A move that turns back the clock

Source: The post is based on the article “Draft telecom Bill: A move that turns back the clock” published in the Indian Express on 3rd November 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

Relevance: About the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill and ways to improve it.

News: The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill reimagines and reshapes the digital architecture in India.

About the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill
Read here: Draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022 – Explained, pointwise
What are the concerns associated with the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill?
Read here: Draft Telecom Bill enhances unease of doing biz amid regulatory overlaps
What needs to be done to improve the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill?

Liberalise the regulatory regime in the telecom sector: After 1991, India focused on liberalisation. For instance, electricity-generating plants were liberated from licensing under the Electricity Act, of 2003.

On similar lines now, the internet economy requires a supporting and facilitative legal framework and regulatory mechanism that is simple and easy to navigate and aids the digital economy.

Limit the application: The new law should only regulate the hard infrastructure/network layer, the essence of telecommunications, and not the software layer.

This is because, the Telecom service providers (TSPs) operate at the network level while the OTTs function at the software layer. Also, the OTTs are governed by the Information (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 and the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Avoid regulatory supremacy: The Supreme Court recently resolved a 10-year long jurisdictional battle between the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission and the Security and Exchange Board of India to regulate and control forward trading/future contracts in the electricity markets.

The telecom sector has, in the past, witnessed a tussle for regulatory supremacy between TRAI and the Competition Commission of India. So, instead of having an overlapping jurisdiction, a clear Lakshman Rekha has to be drawn.

Do not offend the doctrine of equality: The inclusion of OTTs under the regulatory regime for TSPs will be tested on the principles enshrined under Article 14 of the Constitution — “unequal cannot be treated equally”. This is because of the merger of two distinct service providers. So, the government should reexamine these contentious issues and course correct them.

Read more: What are the limitations of auctions as a method of spectrum allocation? How does the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, try to bring reforms to this area?

The regulatory framework offers stability, predictability and legal certainty. A legal architecture based on the concept of “one sector one regulator” can help provide clarity to stakeholders and facilitate the growth of the digital economy.

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