Spectrum Allocation Rules: India to Ease Century-Old Telecom Laws to Attract Investors

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 India aims to reform its century-old telecommunications law by introducing a new bill as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to make the sector investor friendly. The government is exploring abolishing the concept of licensing with “authorization,” said a person familiar with the matter, who requested not to be identified as the bill is before lawmakers. This is expected to give the government flexibility to cope with advances made in technology.

The proposed draft is also considering a major overhaul of spectrum allocation rules to allow resale, easy upgradability, surrender, sharing, leasing and trading, the person said.

In addition, spectrum for satellite services will not be auctioned. The proposed bill excludes email, internet-based communication, broadcasting, machine-to-machine communication and over-the-top services such as Netflix.

Telecommunications Bill 2023 progressive, boosts digital connectivity, innovation: Industry

(PTI) The government’s proposal in the Telecommunications Bill 2023 to allocate spectrum to satellite companies without auction, keep internet-based calling and messaging apps out of telecom rules, and measures to protect infrastructure is progressive and will boost digital connectivity, industry bodies said on Monday.

The bill introduced by Union Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw proposes allocation of spectrum to satellite communications companies through administrative method without the need for bidding in auction.

Indian Space Association Director General AK Bhatt said satellite-based communication networks have a huge potential that can transform India into a truly digital and developed economy.

“By allocating the spectrum by administrative method for satcom, India could align itself with international standards, promote global cooperation and also help drive innovation, create opportunities for startups, and strengthen the country’s position in the global satellite market,” Bhatt said.

This would also spur growth in all downstream sectors of space providing impetus to the space economy in India, he said.

SIA-India, whose members include companies such as Viasat, Inmarsat, SES, Hughes Communications, etc, said the bill aligns with international best practices for satellite spectrum assignments, placing a strong emphasis on fair and transparent administrative processes that conform to global standards.

“SIA-India, in its submission, emphasised on the importance of adopting methodologies that ensure maximum usability, and adhere to established international norms. The association extends its appreciation to the Indian government for its progressive stance on spectrum management in the satellite communication sector,” SIA-India Director General Anil Prakash said.

While the bill defines transmission of messages through wire or wireless technologies as telecommunication, official sources said the definition is as per the old Act.

The internet-based messaging and calling apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Meet will be covered under IT rules and not under telecom laws as per government rules of business allocation.

Internet-based companies’ representative body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), whose members include Google, WhatsApp, etc, hailed the bill as email, internet-based communication services, broadcasting services, machine-to-machine communication services and Over-The-Top (OTT) communication services have been excluded from it.

“The time-tested distinction between telecom spectrum controlling entities (which are regulated) and spectrum-using companies should be maintained as it has been the basis that has allowed innovation and deeper penetration of internet in India,” IAMAI said.

The definition of messages as included under telecom rules has been interpreted differently by experts and the US-based industry body ITI, which represents global technology majors.

Telecom specialist and independent consultant Parag Kar said the bill is historic as it decisively clarifies longstanding ambiguities surrounding the allocation of spectrum for crucial services such as satellite and backhaul.

He, however, said in the revised version of the Telecom Bill, there is a noticeable shift in the approach to licensing Over-The-Top (OTT) services compared to the earlier 2022 draft.

Previously, OTT was explicitly categorised under “telecommunication services” and the revised bill in contrast opts for a more inclusive approach, encapsulating OTT within a broader definition of telecommunication.

“In essence, the proposed draft of the Telecom Bill grants the Government of India (GOI) discretionary power to classify OTT services as “telecommunication services” if it chooses to do so. This is because, by their inherent nature, OTT services align with the broad scope of the term “telecommunication” as defined in the bill,” Kar said.

ITI Country Director for India Kumar Deep said the industry body welcomes the revised version of the 2023 Telecommunications Bill as it refines the scope of the 2022 draft.

“While we are still reviewing the full text, the current definition of telecommunication services appears to be quite broad. We expect the government to conduct a consultation on the current version of the bill and welcome the opportunity to provide additional feedback,” he said.

The bill proposes protective measures for telecom infrastructure and reinforces provision for a smooth rollout of networks, especially optical fibre cables.

The Centre has proposed exemption of telecom networks installed on any property from any claims, encumbrances, liquidation or the like, relating to such property.

“The Telecom Bill 2023, tabled in Parliament today paves the way for robust telecom networks through a well-defined Right of Way (RoW) framework,” telecom industry body COAI said.

The bill has proposed measures that will protect abrupt removal or any changes in the mobile tower or network elements from a property.

Digital Infrastructure Providers Association (DIPA) Director General T R Dua said the provisions in the bill will bring uniformity across states in terms of Right of Way (RoW) rules and regulations, along with rates.

He said the bill aims to ensure the continuity of authorisation and provides for the continuation of rules, guidelines, and administrative orders issued under the existing regime.

“Additionally, the bill safeguards digital infrastructure, stating that no public entity can take coercive actions against the telecommunication network without permission from a central government-authorised officer, except in cases of natural disasters or public emergencies.”

“In conclusion, it will certainly ease the process of doing business and reduce compliance burdens, aiming to create a conducive business environment,” Dua said.

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