The government’s thrust in drafting the Telecom Bill which will eventually replace the older statutory regime regulating the telecom sector was protecting the consumer — a direct mandate from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who underlined that technology should not overwhelm a consumer in the far-flung areas who is not well-versed with it — as also “light touch” regulation.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has set the deadline of October 20 on the draft Bill which seeks to replace three laws — the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885; the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933; and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.

No dilution of TRAI

Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnav, who unveiled the contours of the draft Bill and threw it open for consultations on Friday, told businessline that the draft is a result of exhaustive consultations and doubts, such as the proposed statute “diluting” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), are misplaced. “There are some provisions related to back reference. There is no question of diluting TRAI,” he said.

Explaining the twin objectives of the draft Bill – protection of consumer and regulation – the Minister said the existing checks in the form of KYC norms are extremely lax. “There is a growing threat of cyber crimes, especially financial frauds. There has to be a framework which strictly identifies and penalises these criminals,” Vaishnav told businessline.

Chapter 9 provides an enabling framework for the Centre to prescribe measures to ensure protection of telecommunication users. Consumer protection entails protection from unsolicited messages, enabling provisions for DND registers, identity of caller to be visible to the receiver and preventing frauds. It has been made a statutory obligation for the users to provide correct KYC information.

The “light touch regulation” entails that all existing licences, all existing rules, regulations, exemptions etc., will continue. There will be no retrospective amendments to the terms and conditions of the kind seen in the Vodafone case.

In terms of regulation with regard to taking down or intercepting messages due to national security reasons, the relevant provision is Chapter 6 which gives the authorities power to take down or intercept messages. According to the Minister, this is a continuation of the provisions in the Telegraph Act which have been ratified by the Supreme Court.

‘Prohibiting regulator’

The industry has been circumspect in its initial responses. According to the Broadband India Forum (BIF), the draft Bill proposes to remove non-obstante provision and provisos to Section 11(1) of the TRAI Act. “Some of the provisions, unfortunately appear to be prohibitive rather than facilitating/ enabling for the larger digital ecosystem in the country. The provisions seem to take us back to the pre-1997 era by diluting the powers of the regulator. This could lead to the damage of investor confidence and undermining of the independence of the regulatory authority,” TV Ramachandran, President at BIF, said.