India gets its new Telecom Act

December 27, 2023
Telecommunications Bill 2023

By Vikrant Rana, Anuradha Gandhi and Rachita Thakur

The Parliament has passed the Telecommunications Bill 2023 which aims to replace is set to replace the existing laws including the 138-year-old Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933. This bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha on the 20th of December 2023 and the Rajya Sabha on the December 21, 2023 respectively. After this, the bill received the President’s assent on the December 24, 2023 and has now become the Telecommunications Act, 2023 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”).

The Act allows the government to temporarily take control of telecom services in the interest of national security, and providing a non-auction route for the allocation of satellite spectrum. The Act was passed in the Lok Sabha by a voice note on a short debate.

This step comes in as the government’s policy for complete digitization of services. The Act provides for structural changes in the current regulatory mechanisms in the sector ranging right from the licensing regime, spectrum assignment and requirements for user verification, identity theft, dispute resolution process in cases of conflicts between licensed service providers and the government inter alia.

India’s telecom sector- Present situation

The telecom sector in India has been governed under the three laws:

(i) The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 that provides for licensing of telegraph-related activities and interception of communication,
(ii) The Indian Wireless Telegraph Act, 1933 for regulating the possession of wireless telegraph apparatus, and
(iii) The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950 for regulating the possession of telegraph wires.

Key Features of the Act

The Act will allow authorities to intercept or block messages between persons relating to specified grounds, including, the interest of the security of the State, Friendly relations with other countries, public, order, prevention of incitement of offences. The Act mentions about obtaining the consent of users for specified classes of messages.

The Act is however not applicable on the Over-the-top (OTT) communication services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. The Minister of Electronics and Information Technology has categorically mentioned that the OTT has been regulated under the Information Technology Act 2000 and the new Act does not cover the same.

The Act further provides for the authorization, by replacing the term ‘license’, for telecommunication services and assignment of spectrum, offences and penalties and adjudication process.

Protection of users from frauds and Security concerns

Protecting the users from different types of cyber frauds and attacks is one of the major aims of the Act and hence, makes cyberattacks a crime with 3 years of imprisonment or fine of INR 2 crore (20 million) or a combination of both. The government further aims to globally enforce cybersecurity measures with legal support. Impersonation and acquisition of SIM fraudulently using someone’s identity proof for telecom services has also been made punishable with imprisonment for a term up to three years and a fine upto INR 50 Lakh (5 miilion).1

Considering the Muti-folded rise in cyberattacks, it is reported that the government is planning to form a cybersecurity agency soon to look over the threats to telecom networks.

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