A new Telecommunication Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on Monday by Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. The bill aims to replace three existing acts, including the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885; the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933; and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
According to the Telecom Bill 2023, the Centre can take temporary control of the telecom network in case of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety. Further, the bill suggests halting transmission and intercepting messages in case of public interest, public emergency, or to prevent offence.
“On the occurrence of any public emergency, including disaster management, or in the interest of public safety, the central government or a state government or any officer specially authorized on this behalf by the central government or a state government, if satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, by notification – take temporary possession of any telecommunication service or telecommunication network from an authorized entity,” the bill states.
Moreover, the bill says that the press messages of correspondents approved by the Centre or state governments for publication in India shall not be intercepted or held unless their transmission has been banned under rules for public emergency, public order, etc. “The press messages, intended to be published in India, of correspondents accredited to the Central Government or a State Government shall not be intercepted or detained, unless their transmission has been prohibited under clause (a) of sub-section (2).”
The Telecommunications Bill 2023 also seeks to modify and consolidate the laws relating to the development, expansion, and operation of telecom services and networks, including the assignment and efficient utilization of spectrum and development. “The central government shall assign spectrum for telecommunication through auction except for entries listed in the First Schedule for which assignment shall be done by administrative process,” the bill said.
According to reports, internet-based messaging and calling apps, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Google Meet, will fall under IT rules and not telecom laws. In addition, the current consultation process on over-the-top apps (OTT) can no longer be continued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Lastly, the bill also reveals the criteria for appointing the TRAI Chairman and Members from the private sector. As per the bill, the Chairperson must have at least 30 years of professional experience as a board member or chief executive in specified areas, while Members need to have at least 25 years of professional experience in similar roles.