India has proposed to regulate internet-based communication services, requiring platforms to obtain a license for operating in the world’s second largest wireless market.
The Department of Telecommunications’ new proposal, called Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, seeks to consolidate and update three old rules — Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Protection) Act, 1950.
The 40-page draft proposes to grant the government the ability to intercept messages beaming through internet-powered communication services in the event of “any public emergency or in the interest of public safety.” It also provides the government immunity against any lawsuit.
“No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the Central Government, the State Government, the Government of a Union Territory, or any other authority under this Act or any person acting on their behalf as the case may be, for anything which is done in good faith, or intended to be done in pursuance of this Act or any rule, regulation or order made thereunder,” the draft said.
The draft also asks that individuals using these licensed communications apps should not “furnish any false particulars, suppress any material information or impersonate another person”.
Telecom operators in the country have long demanded regulation of apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram “to get a level-playing field” in the South Asian market. But the proliferation of WhatsApp and other chat services in India and beyond that killed the telecom industry’s costly texting tariffs did not hurt consumers.
The Department of Telecommunications said it reviewed similar legislation in Australia, Singapore, Japan, the European Union, the UK and the US while preparing its draft.
The proposed guidelines, for which the ministry will seek public comments until October 20, additionally attempts to take broader steps to curb spam messages. India is one of the worst affected nations by spam calls and texts, a fact that has allowed call screening apps such as Truecaller to make deep inroads in the nation.
The draft says that “any message offering, advertising or promoting goods, services, interest in property, business opportunity, employment opportunity or investment opportunity” must only be sent after users’ prior consent. The draft also proposes a mechanism to enable users to report spam messages received and recommends one or more ‘Do Not Disturb’ registers to record users’ consent for receiving specific promotional messages.
The draft notably comes just over a month after India concluded its $19 billion 5G spectrum. The country is expected to get 5G networks later this year.