TRAI Extends Deadline For Interconnection Regulation

Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued the ‘Draft Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) (Fourth Amendment) Regulations 2022’ on September 9, 2022, for the purpose of seeking comments or counter-comments from stakeholders.

It was decided that the last date for receiving written comments from the stakeholders would be October 7 and that the counter-comments would be due by October 21. In response to requests from some stakeholders, the deadline for submitting written comments was extended to November 4, and that for counter-comments to November 18.

However, important to note that some stakeholders have requested a further extension of time to submit their comments on the draft of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) (Fourth Amendment) Regulations, 2022.

In view of this, it has been decided to extend the last date for submission of written comments up to November 18 and counter comments, if any, can be submitted by December 2, the ministry said in a notification. No further requests for extension would be considered, it said.

Controversy over  Draft Telecom Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate and amend the laws regulating the provision, development, expansion, and operation of telecommunication services, telecommunication networks, and telecommunication infrastructure as well as the assignment of spectrum. The draft Telecommunication Bill seeks to lay down a broad framework addressing issues related to principle, leaving other substantive aspects to be formulated by the government once the principal framework is in place. The Bill also seeks to remove redundant penalties and imposes a quantum of penalties based on severity among others. The Bill also seeks to mandate licenses for OTT communication services (Internet-based apps/ software) among other regulations. 

Since the OTT apps include apps like WhatsApp, Industries experts say that the draft bill will not only give the government the power to charge from these apps but may also pave the way for privacy policy interference. As per current norms, a company is termed a telecom provider if it has the physical infrastructure and then they pay a fee to the government for spectrum. The OTT apps like WhatsApp also offer services like telcos that include text, voice calls, and video calls. However, unlike the telcos, they don’t pay anything as of now as they simply bypass most telecom regulations even though their services are based on the internet. The government feels that it’s facing a loss due to this and thus want to regulate the OTT. 

The government wants companies providing broadcasting services, e-mails, voice-video calls, internet, broadband services, and even OTT communication services to pay a fee for the services they are offering to customers in India. However, there is a difference between the apps and telecom providers. Telecom firms control internet access but don’t provide services like email or video calls.

There are also many other factors. According to Finshots, a user of a messaging app will be held liable if found using the services of an OTT platform that has not received a license from the government. The user may have to pay a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.  

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