Centre mulls removal of TRAI-related provisions from telecom bill

Government is evaluating introduction of a separate bill to strengthen the regulatory body at a later stage.

October 27, 2022 10:28 pm | Updated October 28, 2022 09:20 am IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representational purposes only.

Image for representational purposes only. | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Following concerns over the possible dilution of powers of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in the proposed telecom policy, the government is mulling the removal of provisions related to the regulator from the bill. It is evaluating introducing a separate bill to strengthen the regulatory body at a later stage, according to an informed source.

“The Department of Telecom (DoT) has had discussions with the TRAI and all the concerns were addressed. Everyone agreed that the intent was good... There are no differences between the DoT and the TRAI. All issues have been resolved,” the source said.

The source added that one of the things that the government is now considering is removing almost all TRAI-related amendments proposed in the draft telecom policy and bringing in a separate Bill with the objective of strengthening the TRAI. However, the new Bill will come a couple of years down the line, after the telecom Bill is implemented.

The DoT is currently under the process of discussion with all stakeholders, including industry bodies, on the draft Bill. The government has also invited written comments from industry on the Bill, the deadline for which was extended till October 30. Post these discussions and receiving of the inputs, a final draft will be introduced.

Further, the source added that the government wants to strengthen the TRAI to bring it at par with bodies such as the U.S.’ regulator Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.K.’s Ofcom, with highly technical-oriented people and powers to impose penalties, among other things.

Significant changes

The government had released the draft of The Indian Telecommunication Act, 2022 in September this year, wherein it proposes significant changes, including provisions for waiving off dues for financially stressed operators, bringing over-the-top (OTT) platforms within the ambit of telecom services that require a licence to operate, and provisions for message interception in case of public emergency.

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Among the other concerns, experts had pointed out that the Bill undermines the regulator, by proposing to “take away the TRAI’s statutory independence, and seeks to make it subservient to the government”. For example, the Bill proposed to remove provisions for referencing and back-referencing recommendations between the DoT and the TRAI. The Bill also proposed to amend clauses which gave the regulator power to notify tariffs at which telecom services are to be offered.

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