Telecom Bill 2023: OTT apps are not covered by new bill, telecoms minister reportedly says

Over-the-top (OTT) apps or services will not be covered under the recently passed Telecommunications Act 2023, Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told ET Telecom. The minister’s statement comes days after Parliament passed the new Telecom Bill that replaces three older laws, including the 138-year-old Indian Telegraph Act. The provisions under the new bill reduce the powers of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and give the government unprecedented powers, including the ability to take over telecom services in the interest of national security.

After the telecommunications bill (2023) was passed Thursdayconcerns were raised over increased government scrutiny and interference if OTT communications apps such as WhatsApp and Signal were included under the purview of the new telecommunications bill, which is awaiting presidential assent before becoming law.

“[…]There is no coverage of OTT in the new telecommunications bill that Parliament has adopted,’ says the minister told the publicationwhich explains that these OTT apps are currently covered by the Information Technology Act, 2000 and will continue to be governed by the same Act which is overseen by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Earlier this week Meta told reportedly expressed concern over the telecom bill in an internal email to colleagues from Shivnath Thukral, director and head of India Public Policy at Meta. The revised version of the Telecommunications Bill passed by Parliament does not contain and refer to OTT or OTT platforms, but mentions terms such as ‘telecommunications services’, ‘messaging’ and ‘telecommunications identification’ which could also apply to OTT platforms.

The Telecom Bill now awaits the President’s assent before becoming a law – it was cleared in the Rajya Sabha through a voice vote on Thursday, a day after it was passed by the Lok Sabha. The bill is to replace the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act of 1950.

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