Communications minister introduces Communications Convergence Bill in Parliament

Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan finally did it. After a lot of hectic activity behind the scenes which saw the printing of copies of The Communication Convergence Bill, 2001 (CCB 2001) over the past two days, Paswan introduced the long-in-gestation bill in Parliament on the last day of the monsoon session.

In fact, various ministries which could be impacted by the proposed new legislation, had announced during the Budget session that the bill would be introduced in the Monsoon session, but everyone took the statements with a pinch of salt. The reason: the fear of consensus amongst all of them.

The Bill calls for the setting up of a common regulatory authority for information technology, communications and broadcasting. It provides for the setting up of a super-regulator -- the Communication Commission of India -- converging the existing regulatory authorities into the new entity.

The Cabinet had on Sunday approved the legislation and the consequential repeal of five laws, including The Telegraph Act, 1885, The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Posession) Act, 1950 and The Telecom Regulatory of India Act, 1997 , and The Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 which are to give way to the new convergence law.

The Communications Commission of India will have its head office in Delhi with regional offices in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. It will be 12-strong with a chairperson, at the most 10 members, and a Spectrum Manager. Eight of these will be whole time members with the remainder part-time.

To resolve any civil liability action suits amongst service providers, the Commission will appoint one of its officers as an Adjudicating Officer to investigate whether one of them has contravened any rules or orders which could have led to civil liability.

The Communications Commission of India will license:

1) Network Infrastructure Facilities: These include earth stations, cable infrastructure, wireless equipment, towers, posts, ducts and pits used in conjunction with other communication infrastructure, and distribution facilities including facilities for broadcasting distribution.

2) Network Services: These include bandwidth services, fixed links and mobile links.

3) Network Application Services: These shall include public switched telephony, public cellular telephony, global mobile personal communication by satellite, Internet protocol telephony, radio paging services, public mobile radio trunking services, public switched data services and broadcasting (radio or television service excluding continued).

4) Content Application Services: These include satellite broadcasting, subscription broadcasting, terrestrial free to air television broadcasting and terrestrial radio broadcasting.

5) Value Added Network Application Services: Internet services and unified messaging services.

Surprisingly services such as call centers, electronic-commerce, tele-banking, tele-education, tele-trading, tele-medicine, videotex and video conferencing have not been proposed to be brought under the purview of the proposed new act, as they are "Information Technology" led (can someone please clarify this).

The Bill calls for the setting up of a seven-member (including a chairperson) Communications Appellate Tribunal by government notification to hear the grievances of individuals not happy with any decisions or orders of the Commission. It will have the same powers that are vested in a civil court.

Additionally, a Universal Obligation Fund to which all service providers will contribute will also be set up.

The Bill seeks the setting up of a Spectrum Management Committee under government notification, with the Cabinet Secretary as its chairman, and the Wireless Advisor as the Spectrum Manager and secretary of the committee. The Spectrum Manager will look after issues relating to the frequency spectrum both internally and with international agencies, set fees, and ensure maximum and effective utilisation of the spectrum.

Content Access Service providers will have to ensure that they provide enough indigenous programming, follow copyright laws. Cable TV operators will be able to retransmit only licensed services, not monopolise their networks with their own services, and also provide for certain channels for the public broadcaster.

The Bill makes life simpler for cable TV operators and network infrastructure providers to lay cables underground, overhead, across any public property by simply applying to the concerned local authority. The authority is duty bound - under the Bill - to give permission to the applicant immediately as long as it promises to undo or pay for any damage he may cause to the property.

It's not as if the the Communication Convergence Bill, 2001 is likely to become law soon. It will have to be put up before a committee of Parliamentarians for vetting and then debated in Parliament before finally being enacted.

Observers say the wait could be as little as three months to as much as a year. Or even longer. Remember the Broadcasting Bill of 1997?

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