NDA rehashes old convergence bill, plans super regulator for telecom, TV and internet

The NDA government is all set to give India's telecom, internet and television sectors in India a super regulator as it seeks to revive the Communications Convergence Bill, which it had drafted in 2000.<br />

FP Staff September 08, 2014 10:55:08 IST
NDA rehashes old convergence bill, plans super regulator for telecom, TV and internet

After the scrapping of the Planning Commission, it could well be the turn of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

The NDA government is all set to give India's telecom, internet and television sectors in India a super regulator as it seeks to revive the Communications Convergence Bill, which the NDA had drafted in 2000 but dropped later owing to differences between the involved bodies. The UPA did not pursue the bill in the last decade.

Currently, the Department of Telecommunications is working on the idea of establishing a single regulatory framework for multi-faceted communications, IT and multimedia. Reports suggest that the new Communications Commission could replace both Trai and Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal.

The Communications Commission will have seven members and will stimulate market competition in order to ensure better quality services for the consumer and prevent monopolies. Each member would be a domain expert on areas such as telecom, broadcasting, information technology, law and consumer affairs and finance.

CNBC-TV18 had earlier reported that the bill also seeks to replace TDSAT with a new appellate body called the Communications Appellate Tribunal, which will have 3 members and a Chairman. This tribunal will also have the power to oversee dispute resolution.

So in essence the Communication Commission will retain the functions and the powers of TRAI, but will also be involved in theaffairs of some of the other regulators such as the Censor Board, some clearances that the Ministry Of Environment gives out, the Competition Commission of India and the Department of Telecommunications.

An internal committee at DoT has already recommended provision of providing telecom, cable and broadcasting services by a single company and paying for the services though a common bill. However, these kinds of provisions will need a new set of regulations that can be introduced only through the new convergence bill.

The DoT is likely to finalise the draft bill before the Winter Session of Parliament.

"Essentially the bill is a rehash of the version called the convergence bill that was mooted about 10 years ago and then lost any impetus because of turf issues between information and broadcasting and telecom. It is also not apparently clear what you will achieve by combining carriage and content regulation. Some countries have tried that, Malaysia has tried it, Korea tried it and then had to separate content from carriage. So it is not exactly clear where are they are headed right now. I think you should just wait and watch, it is premature to take a call on it at this point of time," Trai chairman Rahul Khullar told CNBC-TV18.

Khullar, however, is of the view that carriage and content should not be combined since the content regulation primarily pertains to broadcast media, print and television.

"Content regulation does not fit in to a neat model of government regulation and the moment you try and broach matters concerning broadcasting or news with government regulation, you know exactly what is going to happen. So I think you will have to be very careful when you draft these things," he said.

Khullar believes that the government will not be able achieve much with one omnibus regulator supervising four-five independent regulators.

"They ( the bills) will be tossed around from one committee to the next and invariably there will be people in the ministry itself who will say let sleeping dogs lie! Why are you rocking the boat? We are managing with telecom sector within the framework of the Telegraphy Act, why do you want to so drastically change it?," he added.

The bottom line he says is this: the telecom industry is coming out of big mess right now and a super regulator will only complicate matters.

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