Replacing the Old with the New: Assessing the Necessity of Legal Transformation in Telecom

The Telecommunications sector in India has been governed under three laws:

(i) The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 providing for licensing of telegraph-related activities and interception of communication,

(ii) The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 for regulating the of possession of wireless telegraph apparatus,

(iii) The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950 for regulating the possession of telegraph wires.

The Telecommunications Bill, 2023 seeks to provide a revised regulatory structure for the telecommunications sector in India. It is intended to replace the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, which now govern telecom services in India. The Bill’s primary provisions include mandating authorization for the establishment of telecom networks, the provision of services, and the assignment of spectrum. It allows for the interception of communications on specific reasons, including safeguards to protect users. The Bill also addresses issues such as telecom infrastructure right of way, appointments to TRAI, the Universal Service Obligation Fund, and offenses and penalties.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) are currently established by the TRAI Act, 1997.

Is it necessary to completely transform the telecom sector’s legal and regulatory framework?

The tremendous growth of communication technology necessitates the need to reform the legal and regulatory framework for the telecom sector. The setting emphasizes that communication technology has advanced greatly since the telegraph period to enable real-time transmission of text, sound, picture, and video data. Voice calling, SMS, radio broadcasting, television, and internet-based communication services for messaging and video calling have all evolved as a result of this progression. Furthermore, there has been a movement toward delivering identical services across many technologies, such as employing cable television networks to provide internet services. According to the Department of Telecommunications, the nature of telecom, its usage, and technologies have undergone a massive change, indicating the need to restructure the legal and regulatory framework for the telecom sector.

What are the primary regulatory duties that the central government would fulfill under the Bill?

According to the Telecommunications Bill, 2023, the federal government will conduct the following major regulatory functions:

Giving permission for telecom-related activity and allocating spectrum.

Conducting investigations and hearing complaints about violations of permission or assignment terms and conditions.

Specifying numerous standards and assessing conformance for telecom equipment, networks, and services.

These tasks are separate from those given to the appropriate authorities in industries such as power and banking.

To (i) develop and run telecommunications networks,

(ii) provide telecommunications services

(iii) own radio equipment, central government approval will be necessary.

A government-authorized official may check premises or vehicles for the presence of an unauthorized telecom network or equipment.

Telecommunications may be intercepted for a variety of reasons, including security of the state, public order, or prevention of offences. The central government may enact safeguards to protect users, such as requiring prior approval to receive specific communications and the establishment of a do not disturb registry. Such measures must be necessary or expedient in the demand of public safety or public emergency and must be in the interest of specified grounds, which include:

(i) security of the state,

(ii) prevention of incitement of offences

(iii) public order.



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