GoM clears draft convergence bill, looks at super regulator

The group of ministers (GoM) on information technology and telecom, headed by finance minister Yashwant Sinha, on Tuesday approved the draft Communications and Convergence Bill 2001 setting in motion the process of creating a super regulator which will have the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the proposed broadcasting authority subservient to it.

Everything connected with telecommunication and broadcasting, and other communications, including all aspects of convergence in these services, would come under the commission's purview.

The super regulator, to be called the Communications Commission of India (CCI), will be established on the lines of the Federal Communications Commission of the US, according to the Business Standard. The draft bill was based on the recommendations made by a panel led by legal expert Fali S Nariman.

The CCI will be empowered to issue all licences, including composite licences for communication facilities and services, to facilitate and regulate all aspects of telecom, broadcasting and other communication including all aspects of convergence in these services, to determine regulations, codes and technical standards, to determine and levy license fee wherever required and to determine tariff and rates for licensed services wherever necessary, the Hindu Businessline reported.

The passage of the Bill involves the repeal of at least five laws and also covers certain aspects of the Information Act 2000 that are administered by the telecom, IT and broadcasting Ministries. The proposed Bill is likely to deal with the consolidation and management of the provisions of the Indian Telegraphs Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, the Telegraph Wire Unlawful Possession Act, 1950 and the TRAI.

It will also lead to the repeal of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, which is under the purview of the I&B Ministry.

So is the era of convergence finally at hand? Not just yet and maybe not for a while if the government's record on the matter thus far is anything to go by.

IT Minister Pramod Mahajan has promised the bill, which has over 100 clauses, will be introduced in Parliament in the first week of May.

Before that it will first be put on the Web to get feedback from various sections of the industry.

This is supposed to happen within a week. The responses are expected to come in by 25 February. Nariman is then expected to scrutinise the responses and the GoM is to meet again in April to incorporate any changes, if required.

If there are no differences within the GoM at that stage, the bill will be placed before the cabinet in April-end and in the first week of May, it is scheduled to be introduced in Parliament. The bill will then be sent to the standing committee, and is expected to be passed either in the winter session of 2001 or in the Budget session of 2002.

Mahajan has said the bill will be implemented in its full form in early 2002. That is the schedule as of now. How the whole thing finally unravels we'll have to wait and watch.

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