Telecom industry veterans and associations have welcomed the Telecommunication Bill, 2023 introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday saying it paves the way for robust telecom networks through a well-defined Right of Way (RoW) framework, and such positive measures will significantly accelerate the delivery of digital connectivity benefits to every citizen of India.

“Granting RoW in a non-discriminatory manner, clarifying that telecom networks shall be exempted from property taxes, levies, cesses, fees, and duties, protecting arbitrary shutdowns/sealings without prior authorisation mandate from an authorised officer by Central government, establishing common ducts and cable corridors for streamlined network installation, emphasizing on responsible application process and efficient dispute resolution mechanisms...will significantly accelerate the delivery of digital connectivity benefits to every citizen of India,” S P Kochhar, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said.

COAI represents operators such as Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone-Idea.

They also said the Bill strikes a commendable balance between safeguarding citizens’ interests and ensuring national security, while simultaneously fostering the growth of the telecom sector.

“By incorporating measures that prioritise security alongside promoting innovation and infrastructure development, the bill underscores a commitment to both the welfare of citizens and the advancement of the telecommunications industry,” Purushothaman KG, Partner and Head, Digital Solutions & Telecommunications Industry Leader at KPMG in India, said.

He said the modifications in the Bill 2023 exemplify the government’s responsive approach, actively considering and accommodating the sentiments of the industry.

This collaborative stance also reflects a commitment to creating a regulatory framework that aligns with needs and aspirations of the telecommunications sector, fostering an environment conducive to mutual growth and innovation, he added.

On the proposal to provide satellite spectrum through administrative process, they said that the decision can help India align itself with international standards, promote global cooperation and also help drive innovation, create opportunities for start-ups, and strengthen the country’s position in the global satellite market.

Industry growth

“To allocate the satellite spectrum through a globally harmonised administrative method will pose a greater good for the nation and will spur growth in the nascent space sector, foster healthy competition, and ensure a level playing field for all stakeholders involved...This would also spur growth in all downstream sectors of space providing impetus to the space economy in India,” A K Bhatt, Director General at Indian Space Association (IspA), said.

According to T R Dua, Director-General at Digital Infrastructure Providers Association (DIPA), the Bill aims to ensure the continuity of authorisation and provides for the continuation of rules, guidelines, and administrative orders issued under the existing regime.

“Additionally, the Bill safeguards digital infrastructure, stating that no public entity can take coercive actions against the telecommunication network without permission from a Central government authorised officer, except in cases of natural disasters or public will certainly ease the process of doing business and reduce compliance burdens, aiming to create a conducive business environment,” he added.

According to Harsh Walia, Partner at Khaitan and Co, the removal of ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) communication services from the definition of ‘telecommunication services,’ is important to highlight that the new definition of ‘telecommunication services’ is broad, open-ended, and subject to wide interpretation.

“Although the consequently, it remains to be seen whether the exclusion of the specific reference to OTT communication services will genuinely alleviate any concerns for OTT communication service providers. It is possible that the rules that will be notified by the Central government in this subject will shed further light on this,” he said.

Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) also defined the bill as progressive especially since Internet companies have been decisively kept out of the ambit of the final version of the bill.