Connect with us

Headlines Of The Day

Telecom Bill excludes OTT, retains TRAI’s powers

A new draft of the Telecom Bill – introduced before Parliament – doesn’t mention over the top (OTT) services in its definition of telecom services and clears the way for the government to allocate satellite spectrum. It retains the powers given to India’s telecom regulator.

Reviewed by ‘Business Standard’, the draft defines telecommunications services as “any service for telecommunications”.

Previous drafts of the bill extended the definition of telecommunications services to include OTT services such as messaging platform WhatsApp and video calling programme Skype. These internet-based service providers were to be subject to similar rules as other telecom companies.

The drafts specifically listed OTT among a wide range of specialised communication services, including machine to machine communication, in-flight and maritime connectivity.

The definition was demanded by telecom service providers such as Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio who have said that they require a level-playing field as OTT communications and satellite-based services offer audio and video calls and messaging without paying licence or spectrum fees.

Civil servants had earlier said the government’s aim was to only regulate communication apps “that give the same service as telecom operators”. Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said his ministry sought a “light-touch” regulatory framework for such OTT apps.

Due to the lack of clarity, various OTT apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar had raised concerns. There were also concerns that apps like Zomato and Swiggy may be regulated too.

Satellite spectrum
The latest draft includes satellite spectrum to a list of sectors where the government has the right to administratively allocate spectrum.

Satellite or orbit is a segment of radio spectrum made available when satellites are placed into orbit. A debate over whether the scarce resource should be auctioned or allocated by the government has split the telecom industry.

As part of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) last consultation process in June, technology firms like American billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and Nelco of India’s Tata Group opposed the auctioning of satellite communication spectrum. Telecom operator Bharti pushed for allocations and Reliance Jio called for auctions.

The Department of Telecommunications has granted Bharti Airtel-backed Eutelsat’s OneWeb and Jio Space, the satellite arm of Reliance Jio, the Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite Services (GMPCS) licence needed to offer satellite-based broadband service in India.

Both companies are now facing off in the segment. In October, Jio successfully demonstrated its Jio SpaceFiber service, India’s first satellite-based gigabit speed broadband service at the India Mobile Congress, to previously inaccessible geographies within the country.
Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti, has said OneWeb’s satellite communication service will be available in India soon.

Changes to TRAI
The latest draft drops controversial provisions pertaining to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which critics argued would have substantially diluted the regulator’s powers and made it a rubber stamp of the government.

Earlier drafts had called for amending Section 11 of the TRAI Act, 1997, which mandates the government to seek the regulator’s recommendations for management of spectrum, licences, and matters related to new services.

The latest draft has allowed senior private sector corporate executives to be tapped for the role of TRAI chairperson. It allows the hiring of non-government executives “if such person has at least thirty years of professional experience and has served as a member of the board of directors or a chief executive of a company in certain areas”.

Those with at least 25 years of professional experience and have had stints in boardrooms can now be appointed as TRAI members.

TRAI currently has two full-time and two part-time members. Business Standard

Copyright © 2023.Broadcast and Cablesat

error: Content is protected !!