The government wants to see India emerge as a global leader in telecom technology in three to four years and for that the country needs modern, globally benchmarked regulations, which is the aim of the new draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, said communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Speaking to ET’s Kiran Rathee and Romit Guha, he said the government is aiming to get the bill passed in the monsoon session of parliament next year. Edited excerpts:
Have the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) concerns regarding dilution of powers in the draft telecom bill been addressed?
The issue has been resolved. Basis our discussions with Trai, we will continue with the existing provisions in the Trai Act as of now. However, we do want to highlight that the intent to remove the provisions of the Trai Act was not to make Trai weak, but to simplify the processes that used to take too much shuffling back and forth between Trai and DoT (Department of Telecommunications).
We will have extensive consultations with Trai and all stakeholders to come up with a much stronger Trai, benchmarked to the best in the world. Trai needs more teeth, power to punish, power to enforce. It needs a strong technical, legal, and financial team. So, we will take a comprehensive look at the role and structure of Trai.
The bill has three constructs – licensing, registration, and authorisation. OTT communication regulatory structure will be decided after extensive consultations with all stakeholders. We will involve Trai in this process. We have clearly stated our intent of light-touch regulation with focus on cybersecurity and protection of users.
There is confusion around the definition of OTT, which currently is broad. Can OTT apps like food aggregators etc. be brought under regulation?
No, the intent is to regulate only communication apps. The definition of OTT will be made clear in the revised bill. The intent is to protect consumers from falling prey to cyber frauds. Doesn’t a person who receives a call have the right to know who’s calling?
Some experts have raised concerns that KYC in apps can lead to a breach of privacy.
Actually, it’s the other way round. When a receiver knows where the call is from, her privacy is strengthened. She can decide whether to take the call or not.
When will the bill be presented to parliament?
PM Modiji has emphasised that we should have extensive consultations because the new bill regulates the gateway to Digital India. A reasonable aim for passing the bill is the monsoon session. After that, we will come out with licensing reforms by September-October 2023.
What is the main aim of the bill? Or how do you see the telecom industry in four-five years?
Modiji wants India to emerge as a global leader in telecom technology. For that we need modern, globally benchmarked regulations. In three-four years, we will see India emerge as a major designer and manufacturer of telecom gear. Our 5G tech stack would compete with the best in the world. India’s IP rights will be part of 6G standards. Hundreds of startups will use the regulatory sandbox envisaged in the bill to come up with new solutions. Satellite communication services should become prevalent to reach far-flung rural areas. India would be designing and manufacturing chips used in the telecom sector.
The rollout is going on schedule. In Phase 1, we aim to cover 200 cities by March 2023. By end of 2023, almost every district in the country would have 5G coverage. Telecom service providers are adding 2,500 5G BTSs (base transceiver stations) every week. It will soon ramp up to 10,000 a week; 163 phone models are now 5G enabled. Every week more models are getting enabled. And BSNL would also rollout 5G services by end of 2023. We will have extensive coverage in coming 24 months.
What are your views on allocation of satellite spectrum – auction or not?
We prefer a transparent auction process for natural resources. We understand the challenges in auctioning spectrum for applications like satcom. There cannot be one auction model for all applications. We can create several models of transparent auctions. However, if there is no way to auction, then we can consider administrative allocations.
Over the years, do you expect satcom services to compete with terrestrial services?
The march of technology can give results which are unforeseen today. As a society, we should keep all options open.
What is the aim of the new IT rules?
First aim is protection of users. Platforms are not investing enough in protecting users from online harm. User grievances must be fairly addressed. Users have a right to appeal if a platform doesn’t address their grievance. Second aim is to put the onus on platforms to proactively remove harmful posts that promote crime, child pornography, unauthorised use of copyrighted material.
What is the aim of revised data protection bill?
The draft of digital data protection bill is ready. Modiji has asked us to have wide consultations. It will be released for consultation soon. We have already addressed most of the concerns in the revised bill. Hopefully, we will be able to pass it in the budget session.
What is the update on the semiconductor incentive scheme?
Hopefully, by March-April year, we will start constructing the semiconductor fab.