Industries demand a review of the draft Telecom Bill

Multiple industry organisations have stated in a joint statement that the draught Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022 is overbroad and will impose a significant licencing cost, harm cross-border digital trade, impede India’s economic progress, and restrict innovation.

Narrowing the broad definitions of telecom services and equipment was advised in a statement signed by the App Association, Asia Internet Coalition, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Information Technology Industry Council, India Cellular and Electronics Association, and other international technology and content industry associations.

The draught bill, which is available for public comment until Thursday, aims to include over-the-top (OTT) communication services like WhatsApp, Signal, and email providers like Gmail in the definition of telecom services and to require them to do KYC (know your customer) on their users.

Additionally, it suggested that since the electronics and IT ministry currently regulates consumer equipment and software, they be left out of the definition of telecommunications equipment (MeitY).

Given the draught bill’s extensive consequences, the industry stakeholders who signed the letter have requested additional thought and consideration.

The proposed measure, according to the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) in Washington, will unintentionally restrict India’s ability to conduct business, have a detrimental influence on cross-border digital trade, impede India’s economic progress, and hinder innovation.

It demanded that the term “telecommunication infrastructure” be precisely defined to include only infrastructure that is utilised to deliver communications services. The definition of telecommunication infrastructure may potentially exclude infrastructure used in the construction and operation of a data centre, according to ITI.

The measure, according to the Internet Society, a global non-profit organisation that manages internet standards, will hurt the country’s GDP and digital economy, put millions of users at risk of injury, and endanger personal and online business security.

It said that smaller, cash-strapped platforms and startups will be disproportionately affected by licencing requirements and forced to expend valuable resources to comply with the law.

Additionally, it recommended eliminating the clause providing the government “carte blanche ability to impose an internet shutdown.”

To ensure that the person on the other end knows who is attempting to communicate, the draught telecom bill contains provisions to introduce KYC requirements for all telecommunications services, including WhatsApp and Gmail. These measures ensure users share personally identifiable information.

This “would necessitate weakening of encryption techniques” employed by OTT services and email service providers, according to ITI, and would “violate the right to privacy of consumers.” According to the report, the action could lead to malicious actors using alternative technologies to exploit the holes left by weakened encryption that allows for real-time surveillance and interception.