Just as the Department of Telecommunications is set to release the new draft of the telecommunication Bill in next few weeks, sources at the DoT told businessline that provisions around licensing for internet communication companies such as WhatsApp and Signal would continue to remain a part of the new draft.
The Centre’s mandate to bring internet communication companies (or OTTs) under the Ministry of Communications was met with immense pushback from the tech industry after the draft Bill was released in September. However, even after the consultation process for the Bill, sources at the DoT indicate that internet communication companies will still have to comply with some form of “moderate licensing regime.”
The DoT official also maintained that provisos around public caller ID and maintaining “know your customer details” by all telecommunication service providers would also be incorporated into the new draft.
Tech industry players and associations such as Meta, Signal, Nasscom and BIF were hoping that the Centre will listen to their appeals to not regulate internet communication companies under the DoT and introduce mandates such as licensing and KYC to their operations. However, the DoT has remained adamant that these key controversial components of the new Bill continue to remain in the new draft as well.
The draft Bill, which was released in September, has been in a consultation process, where the Centre has received over 900 comments. One of the most controversial aspects of the new Bill has been the Centre’s decision to bring internet communication companies under the ambit of “telecommunication services,” and thus regulate them under a similar regulatory regime which is followed by telecom operators.
While telcos such as Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have welcomed this decision by the government citing, “same service same rules”, tech companies have not been too happy, arguing that any attempts to bring further regulations on internet companies should be done under the IT rules overseen by the Ministry of Electronics and IT.
Draft in January
The Centre’s bid to license and regulate internet communication companies has not just brought critique from the industry. Civil society and internet freedom organisations have also maintained that users will lose the right to anonymity and privacy on the internet should this Bill pass.
The Centre is likely to release the draft Bill in early January next year. Minister of IT and communications Ashwini Vaishnaw has committed that the telecom Bill will be introduced in Parliament by July-August next year.