India passes new telecom bill to modernise connectivity, introduce satellite broadband amid privacy concerns

The upper house of Indian Parliament today passed the Telecommunications Bill, 2023, replacing over century-old rules as part of the country’s efforts to modernise connectivity, embrace new services, and cater to the evolving landscape of telecommunications. The move comes just months before general elections and aims to foster private participation, attract foreign investors, and facilitate the introduction of satellite broadband services.

In a first, the legislation allows for allocation of spectrum for satellite-based services without participating in auctions. This move is expected to favour global players such as Airtel-owned OneWeb, Elon Musk’s Starlink, and Amazon’s Kuiper among others — all of whom are keen to establish satellite broadband services in India.

The bill introduces measures for biometric verification of subscribers and restricts the number of SIM cards each user can employ, aiming to curb fraudulent activities and enhance security. The legislation includes provisions for civil penalties, with fines of up to $12,000 for specific infringements and up to $600,400 for breaches of defined terms and conditions.

Amendments to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, allow individuals with over 30 years of private sector experience to be appointed as the regulator’s chairperson, broadening the pool of eligible candidates.

The bill, which was passed with most of the opposition MPs absent due to suspension, also raises privacy concerns. The bill grants the Narendra Modi-led government sweeping authority to utilise and take control of telecom services and networks, particularly for monitoring traffic data in national security interests. It also retains provisions for intercepting communication, and taking control of broadcasts during emergent situations.


Read Also