India has proposed regulating Internet-based communication services, requiring platforms to obtain a license to operate in the world’s second-largest wireless market.
The Department of Telecommunications’ new proposal, called the India Telecommunications Bill, 2022, seeks to consolidate and update three old rules: the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933 and the Telegraph Cables (Illegal Protection) Act of 1950.
The 40-page draft proposes giving the government the ability to intercept messages transmitted over Internet-based communication services in the event of “any public emergency or in the interest of public safety. It also provides immunity to the government against any lawsuit.
“No lawsuit, suit or other legal proceeding shall proceed 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 that is done in good faith, or is intended to be done in compliance with this Act or any rule, regulation or order issued under it, “says the draft.
The draft also asks that people who use these licensed communications applications must not “provide false details, suppress material information, or impersonate another person.”
Telecom operators in the country have long called for the regulation of apps like WhatsApp and Telegram “to gain a level playing field” in the South Asian market. But the proliferation of WhatsApp and other chat services in India and beyond wiped out the telecom industry’s expensive text messaging fees, but it didn’t hurt consumers.
The Department of Telecommunications said it reviewed similar legislation in Australia, Singapore, Japan, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States while preparing its draft.
The proposed guidelines, for which the ministry will seek public comment until October 20, also attempt to take broader measures to curb spam messages. India is one of the nations most affected by spam calls and text messages, a fact that has allowed call detection apps like Truecaller to make profound inroads in the nation.
The draft says that “any message that offers, advertises or promotes goods, services, interest in goods, business opportunity, employment opportunity or investment opportunity” should only be sent after users’ prior consent. The draft also proposes a mechanism to allow users to report spam messages received and recommends one or more ‘Do Not Disturb’ records to record users’ consent to receive specific promotional messages.
The draft notably comes just over a month after India wrapped up its $19 billion 5G spectrum. The country is expected to get 5G networks later this year.