Lok Sabha passes Telecommunications Bill, 2023

On Wednesday, the Lok Sabha approved the Telecommunications Bill of 2023, replacing the outdated Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act of 1950.

The primary goal of the bill is to amend and consolidate laws related to the development, expansion, and operation of telecommunication services and networks, along with the assignment of spectrum and associated matters.

As stated in a Lok Sabha bulletin released on Sunday, the President of India recommended the introduction of the Bill under Article 117(1) of the Constitution and suggested its consideration under Article 117(3) as a Finance Bill.

Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw presented the Bill on December 18, and the votes for its introduction were cast shortly after the Minister sought permission.

The proposed Bill aims to overhaul the existing licensing regime for telecom networks, moving from the current system to an authorization framework. Presently, the telecom department issues over 100 types of licenses, registrations, and permissions. The Bill intends to streamline this process by consolidating many of these into a single authorization mechanism.

Moreover, the Bill empowers the government to reclaim unused spectrum and introduces provisions for spectrum sharing, trading, and leasing. Entities will have the option to surrender unused spectrum, although without compensation from the government.

A notable provision mandates entities to conduct biometric authentication of their users to combat fraud, prompting concerns about user privacy.

Additionally, the Bill retains provisions from the Telegraph Act related to the interception or surveillance of telecommunications. It grants the Union government the authority to assume control of a telecom network in the event of a public emergency or safety concerns.

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