Telecom Bill 2023: OTT Apps Excluded, Minister Says

Telecom Minister Excludes OTT Apps from New Telecommunications Bill 2023

In a recent statement to ET Telecom, telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw clarified that over-the-top (OTT) apps or services will not fall under the jurisdiction of the newly passed Telecommunications Bill 2023. This announcement follows the passing of the new telecom bill by Parliament, which supersedes three older laws, including the 138-year-old Indian Telegraph Act. The provisions outlined in the new bill diminish the authority of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and grant the government unprecedented powers, including the capability to assume control of telecom services in the interest of national security.

Following the approval of the Telecommunications Bill 2023, concerns emerged regarding potential heightened scrutiny and interference from the government if OTT communication apps such as WhatsApp and Signal were brought under the purview of the new telecommunications bill. It is important to note that the bill is pending the President’s assent before it can officially become law.

Addressing the apprehensions, the minister made it clear that OTT apps are not covered in the new telecom bill passed by Parliament. He elaborated that these apps are currently regulated under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and will continue to be governed by the same legislation overseen by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Meta Voices Concerns Over Telecom Bill

Recent reports have indicated that Meta expressed apprehensions about the telecom bill in an internal email from Shivnath Thukral, Director and Head of India Public Policy at Meta. The revised version of the telecommunications bill, which received parliamentary approval, does not contain references to OTT or OTT platforms. However, it includes terms such as ‘telecommunication services,’ ‘messages,’ and ‘telecommunications identifier,’ which could potentially apply to OTT platforms.

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The telecommunications bill is currently awaiting the President’s assent before it can be enacted into law. It secured approval in the Rajya Sabha through a voice vote on Thursday, following its passage in the Lok Sabha a day earlier. This bill is poised to replace the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act of 1950.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the telecom minister’s confirmation that OTT apps will not be encompassed by the newly passed Telecommunications Bill 2023 provides clarity on the scope of regulation within the telecommunications sector. With the bill awaiting the President’s assent, the industry will continue to monitor developments closely, particularly in light of concerns raised by stakeholders like Meta. As the telecommunications landscape evolves, all eyes will be on the implementation of this significant legislative update.

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