Gaurang is a student of Army Institute of Law Mohali 

  1. Introduction

‘The total number of phone connections increased by 26.38% between March 2014 and September 2023, reaching 117.92 Cr from 93.30 Cr in March 2014.’

India’s telecom industry is among the biggest and fastest-growing in the world, with annual subscription growth of 33% in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The market has changed and the network has grown as a result of technological advancement and legislative changes. The word “telecommunications,” which comes from the Latin “communicare” and the Greek word “tele,” refers to the process of sending signals across a distance. It is a form of communication and connectivity that is established through distance. These services include telephones, telegraphs, radios, internet, fiber optics, etc. It is essential to the modern world because it enables communication between people and gives them access to global resources and information. India’s telecom industry has made major contributions to the nation’s socioeconomic advancement, which has ultimately helped to somewhat reduce the digital divide between rural and urban areas. The swift expansion of the telecommunications industry has expedited the advancement of indigenous manufacturing, transforming India from an industry reliant on imports to a worldwide center. The telecom industry is growing at its fastest rate owing to services provided via mobile networks. Globally, high-speed internet access is becoming more and more popular, along with broadband services and interactive entertainment. Continued efforts in the past, which began several decades ago, have led to the current advancement in the telecom sector. It was in 1995 that the first mobile call was made in India using Nokia headsets but the story and system date back to the early 19th century.

  1. Evolution Of Telecom Sector In India

India’s first electric telegraph line was built from Kolkata to Diamond Harbour in 1850, marking the commencement of the nation’s telecommunications industry. The same was put into operation by the East India Company from 1851 onwards. Up until 1850, the only method of communication was via the postal service, hence the introduction of telegraph service was a significant development in the relevant field. These services formed the part of Public Works Department and Dr. William O’Shaughnessy, who was part of the same, was among the pioneers of telecom technology in India. With 93 subscribers, the English Oriental Telephone Company Limited launched the first official telephone service in India in 1881. India switched from the cable telegraph system to wireless, radio, telephone, optical fiber, and satellite earth stations in 1902, nearly two decades later. Originally based in Kolkata, the Rajdhani of East India Company during ‘Delhi Durbar’ moved its headquarters to Delhi in 1911, where it continued its telecom operations. In an attempt to boost productivity, the Indian government brought the telecom industry under state supervision, but in 1980, private manufacturing was permitted, marking the beginning of sector reform. The decoupling of the Department of Telecom from the Department of Post in 1985, along with the establishment of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) and Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd (MTNL) to handle long-distance calls and metro area connections, respectively, helped to propel the telecom industry’s expansion. Prior to the drastic reforms in the telecom sector in 1990 onwards, people used to connect using Trunk Bookings[1] or having STDs installed. The STDs here stand for Subscribing Trunk Dialling.[2] The Indian government allowed private investment into the telecom industry in the 1990s under its LPG Policy.[3] The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was established in 1995. The Department of Telecom was renamed Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) after it was corporatized in 2000 to offer telecom and telegraph services. Despite obstacles like the 2G scandal and economic instability, BSNL has grown to be one of the leading telecom providers in all of India.

  1. Critical Analysis Of The Telecommunications Act 2023

The Telecommunications Bill, 2023, which repealed the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, was passed by the Indian Parliament in order to regulate telecommunication services in the country. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 was also amended as a result of this. In addition to outlining non-auction routes for satellite-based communication services and prohibiting phone number spoofing for fraudulent purposes, the act also introduces a digital grievance mechanism and sets rules for spectrum allocation. It also attempts to the curb the abuse of SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) facility. The provisions and concerns which require due consideration of the public and as well the corporations are herewith mentioned.

  1. Spectrum[4] allocation

Except for certain uses like public broadcasting, transportation, weather forecasting, disaster management, national security, and satellite services, for which the government will allot the necessary spectrum, the spectrum is distributed through auction. Additionally, frequencies can be reassigned or repurposed by the central government.

  • Safeguard for Users

User-friendly protection measures that the central government may enact include registering do not disturb signs, granting permission for advertising messages, and reporting malware. Additionally, it sets up online grievance registration and resolution procedures.

  • Right of Way

The “Right of Way” idea was introduced by the act, granting telecom infrastructure providers access to public property upon request. Rejection is only possible for exceptional reasons. This right may also be used to take private property, which could affect the general public through forcible acquisition.

  • Checking the Sim-Card Fraud

The Act creates a civil penalty of up to Rs 50,000 for the first offense and up to Rs two lakh for subsequent offenses for the civil offense of having too many Subscriber Identity Modules (SIM cards). The act also introduced biometric verification for the issuance of SIM cards. Spoofing[5] of SIM cards has also been made a punishable offence.

  • Dispute settlement

The law addresses how the previous telecom regulatory framework lacked an efficient dispute-resolution process. To settle disagreements between users and authorised entities, it gives the central government the authority to create or approve online dispute resolution mechanisms. User rights under the 2019 Consumer Protection Act are unaffected by the Act. Designated Appeals Committee (DAC) and Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) are established for the said purpose.

  • Digital Bharat Nidhi

The Act permits the use of the Universal Service Obligation Fund, which was created under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, for telecom research and development while keeping it intact under the new name Digital Bharat Nidhi.

  • Over-The-Top (OTT) Services

The services under OTT will be governed by the Information Technology Act of 2000 itself and the same have been kept outside the purview of the new telecom act. 

  • Government Interception

The act mandates that radio equipment, network expansion, and telecommunication services get central government approval. It gives the central and state governments extensive discretion by enabling them to intercept, track, and stop the transmission of messages in the name of public safety and emergencies.

  1. Privacy Concern

The Act permits, under central government-mandated procedures, the interception, monitoring, or blocking of messages pertaining to particular subjects. This might result in tracking every word or combination of words used in communication, which could compromise user privacy. Concerns concerning the proportionality of such actions were raised when the Supreme Court decided in the Justice K.S. Puttaswamy case[6] that invasions of privacy should be proportionate to interference. Biometric verification for I under the act is also contentious.

  1. Conclusion

The Supreme Court in a case[7] ruled that airwaves and frequencies are public property, requiring public authority control and regulation to prevent invasion of rights, but the laws in place weren’t able to keep up with telecommunication technology modernization. It was anticipated that the recently ratified Telecommunications Act 2023 by the president and parliament would be a modern, liberty-promoting law. It is true that, in contrast to the already-in-place strict laws, the law does introduce certain necessary alterations and modifications. On the bigger band, though, most of the old provisions appear to still be in place. The use of synonyms and alike terms appears to be an ostentatious attempt to obscure the provisions’ true intent. For example, the term ‘licensing’ has been replaced with ‘authorization’, and that too only in name. The arbitrary provisions regarding surveillance and suspension of internet services have been replicated letter-perfect from the Telegraph Act 1885. The provision of biometric authorization for the issuance of SIM cards and other authentication requirements raised eyebrows owing to privacy concerns. The act seems to have missed taking advantage through a reformative step in the right direction. It is really up to the authorities to answer whether any thought was put into creating and maintaining these peculiar regulations. A statement elucidating the concerns of the stakeholders would be truly appreciated in the present scenario because

‘The best way to minimize disagreement is to make sure that all the stakeholders are in the room’

Cheryl Yeoh[8]

[1] It is a distant telephone call that is routed through a trunk line. A person acts as an operator and facilitates smooth user interface.

[2] It is the advanced form of trunk service in which there was no operator required to mediate calls.

[3] The three primary objectives of the Indian government’s 1991 New Economic Policy are represented by the acronym LPG, which stands for Liberalisation, Privatisation, and Globalisation.

[4] The term “spectrum” describes the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals traverse, allowing us to use our mobile devices for directions, calling, tagging friends, and making calls.

[5] Phone spoofing is a tactic used by scammers to trick their victims by using fictitious caller ID information to mask the real source of an incoming call.

[6] Justice K.S.Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union Of India, AIR 2017 SC 4161.

[7] Secretary Minister of Information & Broadcasting v Cricket Association of Bengal, 1995 SCC (2)161.

[8] CEO, Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC).

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