The Union government has released the draft of ‘The Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022’ wherein it has proposed several significant changes. These changes include provisions for waiving off dues for financially stressed operators, bringing over-the-top platforms (such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix) within the ambit of telecom services.


About the ‘Draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022’

  • At present, the Indian Telecommunications sector is governed by three separate Acts of Parliament —
      • Indian Telegraph Act 1885,
      • Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933,
      • Telegraph Wires, (Unlawful Protection) Act 1950
  • The draft Telecommunications Bill, 2022 aims to consolidate these three separate Acts.
  • Aim – To amend the existing laws governing the provision, development, expansion and operation of telecommunication services, telecom networks and infrastructure, in addition to assignment of spectrum.


Key Amendments proposed in the Draft Bill

  • Inclusion of OTTs in the definition of Telecommunications services —
      • As per the draft law, providers of OTT telecommunication services (such as WhatsApp, Telegram) will be covered under the licensing regime, and will be subjected to similar rules as other telecom operators.
      • This issue has been under contention for several years now as the telecom service providers (such as Airtel, Vi, Jio) seeking a level-playing field with OTT apps over communication services such as voice calls, messages, etc.
      • The telecommunication services had to incur high costs of licences and spectrum, while OTT communication players used their infrastructure to offer free services.
      • So, OTT communication services have to take a licence now and be subjected to the same conditions governing telecom players in India, like quality of service and security rules, etc.
  • Framework for assigning Spectrum —
      • Spectrum relates to the radio frequencies allocated to the mobile industry and other sectors for communication over the airwaves.
      • The draft Bill says that spectrum should primarily be given through auction.
      • Meanwhile, for specific functions related to the government and public interest, like defence, transportation and research, the Bill proposes assignment through the administrative process.
      • The government will also have the power to terminate spectrum allocations partly or in full, if it determines that assigned spectrum has remained unutilised for insufficient reasons over a period of time.
  • Push for rapid expansion of Telecom Infrastructure —
      • The draft Bill tries to achieve through law a ‘right of way’ enforceable at the state– and at the municipal-corporation level.
      • This legal framework is key to the rollout of 5G services.
      • It lays down a framework in which a public entity that owns the land has to grant ‘right of way’ permission expeditiously, unless it gives a substantive ground for refusal.
      • This is aimed to address the bottlenecks in the rapid expansion of telecom infrastructure.
  • Telecommunication Development Fund —
      • The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) which was created under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, will be referred to as the “Telecommunication Development Fund”.
      • USOF is name for the levies collected by the Centre from telecom companies with a view to ensuring funding and development of communication services in rural and underserved areas.
      • Currently, USOF has a surplus cash of around 60,000 crore lying unutilised.
  • Preventing Cyber Frauds — To prevent cyber fraud, the Bill provides that the identity of the person sending a message through telecom services shall be available to a user receiving it.


Criticism of the draft Bill

  • Experts indicate that the Central government cannot take coercive action against states or municipal corporations to impose ‘right of way’ rules, as land is a state subject.
  • Also, more clarity is required as to how the Central government plans to regulate OTT communication services under this Bill.
  • Analysts also worry that the Bill will adversely impact the consultative role of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), weakening its position.
    • The draft Bill excludes the obligation of the government to consult TRAI on licensing issues.



Overall, the Bill places emphasis on the development of telecom infrastructure while covering new-age services to keep up with the times. The proposed legal framework seeks to be future-ready, provides certainty regarding spectrum management and reserves the penalty of imprisonment or heavy fines only for a small set of critical offences.