Internet communication companies to come under licensing ambit

Internet communication companies to come under licensing ambit

Just as the Department of Telecom is set to release the new draft of the Telecom Bill within the next few weeks, DoT sources said line of business that provisions around licensing for Internet communication companies such as WhatsApp and Signal will still remain part of the new concept.

The Centre’s mandate to bring internet communications companies (or OTTs) under the Ministry of Communications was met with tremendous backlash from the tech industry after the draft bill was released in September. However, even after the consultation process for the bill, DoT sources indicate that internet communications companies will still have to comply with some form of “moderate licensing system”.

The DoT official also maintained that conditions around public caller ID and maintenance of “know your customer details” by all telecom service providers will also be included in the new concept.

Technology industry players and associations like Meta, Signal, Nasscom and BIF hoped that the Center would listen to their pleas not to regulate internet communication companies under the DoT and introduce mandates like licensing and KYC in their operations. However, the DoT remained adamant that these key controversial components of the new bill also remain in the new draft.

The draft bill, which was released in September, was in a consultation process, where the Center received more than 900 comments. One of the most controversial aspects of the new bill was the Centre’s decision to bring internet communications companies under the ambit of “telecommunications services” and thus regulate them under a similar regulatory regime followed by telecom operators.

While telcos like Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea welcomed this decision by the government citing “same service same rules”, tech companies were not too happy, arguing that any attempts to introduce further regulations on internet companies should comes under the IT rules overseen by the Ministry of Electronics and IT.

Draft in January

The Centre’s attempt to license and regulate internet communications companies has not only drawn criticism from the industry. Civil society and internet freedom organizations have also maintained that users will lose the right to anonymity and privacy on the internet should this bill pass.

The Center is likely to release the draft bill in early January next year. IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has committed that the Telecom Bill will be tabled in Parliament by July-August next year.

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