The Telecommunication Bill’s, 2023 objective was “to amend and consolidate the law relating to development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services and telecommunication networks; assignment of spectrum;” and for contextual matters. The passing of the Bill and its evolution into law represents a transformative step in the country’s telecom landscape.

Some of the Bill’s provisions signify a forward-looking approach where efforts have been undertaken to also transform the dispute resolution process in the telecom sector. This effort is similar to what we have seen in the recent Digital Data Protection Act, 2023 (DPDP Act) where provisions have been made towards establishing the Data Protection Board and Appellate Tribunal as a “digital office”.

The new Telecommunication law, similarly, signals a paradigm shift in handling telecom disputes. Section 28 (3) of the law, under the heading of “Measures for Protection of users” has created a mandate for the authorized telecommunication entities to establish “comprehensive” online mechanisms to facilitate users in registration and redressal of grievances related to telecommunication services seamlessly. This user-centric approach marks a significant advancement about consumer rights and service accountability.

Furthermore, Section 30 (1) of the law empowers the Centre to establish or approve diverse Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) mechanisms. This framework for resolving disputes between users and telecommunication providers instils a level of credibility and standardisation, essential for the widespread adoption of ODR and underscores the government’s commitment to leveraging technology for enhancing legal processes.

Digital adjudication

The new telecom law pushed for a digital design for adjudicating bodies. The Adjudicating Officer and the Designated Appeals Committee are envisioned to operate as digital offices, employing advanced techno-legal measures. This digital-first approach will ensure dynamism and adaptability in dispute resolution.

The new law incorporates provisions by which the Adjudicating Officer and Designated Appeals Committee have the same powers to that of a civil court. Section 37 (2) states that “The Adjudicating Officer and Designated Appeals Committee shall have the same powers as a civil court, and all proceedings before it shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code.”

Such provisions, coupled with the recognition of their proceedings as judicial, fortifies the legitimacy and enforceability of their decisions.

Progressive trend

All new legislations are incorporating provisions for online dispute resolution mechanisms such as online mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methodologies. This progressive trend reflects a recognition of the evolving nature of dispute resolution in the digital age. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that while adopting these innovative approaches, we do not inadvertently impede the very objectives they are designed to achieve.

To this end, it is suggested that during the initial stages of implementing these dispute resolution mechanisms, a hybrid approach is undertaken. Such a strategy would blend traditional and digital methodologies, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility. This balanced approach is particularly vital to ensure that no disputant, regardless of their familiarity with digital platforms, is disadvantaged or left behind. This thoughtful integration of both conventional and modern dispute resolution methods shall promise to enhance the efficacy and reach of ADR and ODR, aligning with the broader goal of delivering justice in a more accessible and efficient manner.

The writer is is an Advocate and works as Manager (Strategy and Public Policy) at Presolv360