Telecom bill hurts Trai independence, OTT move to hit innovation, Telecom News, ET Telecom

Broadband body: Telecom bill hurts Trai independence, OTT moves to hit innovation

Big tech companies and satellite players have expressed concerns over the draft telecoms bill, saying it threatens to strip the regulator of its statutory independence, make it subservient to the government and is also unclear about the future allocation of satellite spectrum.

Such a scenario, they warned, could upend the country’s telecommunications regulatory framework, pushing the sector back to the pre-1997 era and hindering big-ticket investment.

The Broadband India Forum (BIF), which counts tech majors such as Tata Consultancy Services, Cisco, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook owner Meta, Qualcomm, OneWeb and Hughes among its key members, is also dismayed by the draft telecom bill’s aim to bring OTT -players within the framework of telecommunications legislation and licences.

The move, it warned, could suffocate the entire socio-economic ecosystem, kill innovation and hamper India’s GDP growth.

The Forum is also concerned about the lack of clarity around the proposed form of airwave allocation for satellite broadband communications in the future. This as the upcoming telecom bill is likely to provide legal backing to the auction process alone to provide spectrum, except for public and government purposes.

Satellite players have repeatedly called for allocation of satellite spectrum through the administrative route in line with global practice.

BIF has also criticized another provision of the law that builds a case for the government to take back frequencies after five years or withdraw existing exemptions through mere notices without any consultation. Such a scenario, it said, would hurt investor sentiment and bring down the curtain on big-ticket investments in the telecom sector.

“The draft telecom bill proposes to remove Trai’s statutory independence by deleting provisions enabling proper checks and balances… the authority would be reduced to one with an extremely limited role and powers, which does not bode well for the sector,” BIF said in a statement Friday.

It added that the implications of the bill may turn out to be a step backwards as curtailment of Trai’s role and powers is not conducive to a stable regulatory framework.

TV Ramachandran, President, BIF, said some provisions in the draft Indian Telecommunications Bill 2022 are prohibitive rather than facilitating a larger digital ecosystem. “They appear to be taking us back to the pre-1997 era by diluting the regulator’s powers, which could damage investor confidence,” he said.

The BIF also hit out at the bill’s call to subject OTT communication services to licensing, arguing that such a move could harm India’s nascent startup ecosystem.

The draft telecom law, unveiled on Wednesday, has expanded the definition of telecom services, bringing over-the-top (OTT) communication services, satellite-based communication services, internet and broadband services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, among others, under its purview. .

The Broadband Forum has also lamented the lack of clarity around the allocation of shared spectrum for satcom applications and the future rollout of unlicensed spectrum for public Wi-Fi services. It also said the bill is vague about the use of unlicensed spectrum for applications such as short range devices (SRDs). “These are extremely relevant areas if we are to drive the nation forward with 5G services and beyond.”

Indeed, BIF has emphasized the criticality of detailed consultations with all stakeholders to make coherent decisions based on national and consumer interests. This, it said, is because the proposed bill will have wider and long-term implications for the future of other sectors, particularly with 5G being rolled out and 6G on the way.

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