Government To Introduce Telecommunications Bill, OTT Services To Be Excluded

Telecom Bill 2023, debuting Monday, excludes OTT apps, bringing relief to WhatsApp and Telegram by keeping them outside telecom regulation

The Telecommunications Bill, 2023, is set to be presented in the Lok Sabha today. As per a report by the Economic Times, the bill will exclude over-the-top (OTT) players or applications from the classification of telecommunication services. This move provides significant relief to communication service providers like WhatsApp and Telegram, ensuring they remain exempt from telecom regulations.

The government has suggested the administrative allocation of spectrum for satellite services, as per sources cited by the report. The global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) has been included in the initial schedule, where spectrum allocation will be done through administrative processes.

The bill provides the government authority to suspend or ban the utilization of telecom equipment from countries or individuals specified for reasons related to national security. It highlights the necessity to acquire telecom equipment exclusively from reliable sources. Furthermore, to safeguard the interests of telecom consumers, the bill suggests obtaining prior consent before receiving specific messages, such as promotional or advertising content.

The bill is expected to empower the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to investigate and address predatory pricing. It is poised to replace three existing laws: the Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, of 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, of 1950. As per the Lok Sabha bulletin, the President, informed of the proposed bill, recommends its introduction under Article 117 (1) of the Constitution, following the government's draft telecom bill issued in September (last year), specifying spectrum assignment methods.

The initial draft broadened the scope of telecommunication services to include over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, as well as satellite-based communication, internet, broadband, in-flight and maritime connectivity services. However, in response to industry concerns, OTTs have been excluded from the telecommunications definition.

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