Telecom Bill 2023: OTT Apps Not Covered Under New Bill, Telecom Minister Reportedly Says

Over-the-top (OTT) apps or services will not be under the ambit of the newly passed Telecommunications Bill 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 including the 138-year-old Indian Telegraph Act. 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 on Thursday, concerns were raised related to increased scrutiny and interference from the government, if OTT communication apps like WhatsApp and Signal were included under the ambit of the new telecommunications bill, that is awaiting the President’s assent, before it becomes law.

“[…]There is no coverage of OTT in the new telecom bill passed by the Parliament,” the minister told the publication, explaining that these OTT apps are currently covered by the Information Technology Act, 2000 and will continue to be regulated by the same law that is overseen by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Earlier this week, Meta reportedly expressed concerns 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 that was passed by Parliament does not contain and references to OTT or OTT platforms, but mentions terms like ‘telecommunication services’, ‘messages,’ and ‘telecommunications identifier,’ which could also apply to OTT platforms.

The telecom bill is now waiting the President’s assent before it becomes a law — it was approved in the Rajya Sabha through a voice vote on Thursday, a day after it was passed by the Lok Sabha. The bill is set 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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