This piece reviews the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommendations on “Privacy, Security and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector” released on July 16, 2018 (Recommendations) and attempts to highlight some of their more immediate potential consequences.

Consultations are typically taken up by TRAI based on requests from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). In the instant case, the TRAI has atypically put out the consultation and subsequently the Recommendations of its own volition, without an explicit mandate on the subject.

TRAI recommendations are approved and implemented by the DoT pursuant to the procedure under Section 11 of the TRAI Act, 1997. This process may involve the DoT seeking clarifications, modifications or otherwise referring items back the TRAI.

This process may turn out to be more complex in connection with the current set of Recommendations, given that much of their content recommends the passing of broad-ranging new legislation that is not limited to only the telecom sector.

Continue Reading The TRAI Recommendations on Privacy, Security, and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector, 2018

On 1 May 2018, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) released the much-awaited Draft National Digital Communications Policy – 2018 (Draft Policy) for public comments. The Draft Policy aims to give direction not only to the telecom market but also to digital communications and prepares the country for the future. The policy, when finalised, will act as a framework for all future legal and regulatory changes/ development in Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

The Draft Policy proposes the restructuring of the legal, licensing and regulatory framework including amendments to the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and related legislation, so as to enable the utilisation of newer/ advanced technologies/ convergence. Many stakeholders would suspect the same shall result in unrestricted interconnection between the internet protocol (IP) and Public Switched Telephone (PSTN) networks. The Draft Policy intends introduction of a light touch regulatory regime for various services such as over-the-top (OTT) that allows providers to stream content via the internet, cloud computing, data centres, etc. The Draft Policy also makes clear the requirement to amend terms and conditions for other service providers (OSPs). It further suggests establishing a unified policy framework and spectrum management regime.

Continue Reading Draft National Digital Communications Policy 2018: Restructuring the Legal and Regulatory Regime

In the initial years of wireless telephony in India, radio spectrum was administratively allotted to licensees. However, following the recommendations of the National Telecom Policy, 2012, and the decision of the Apex Court in the case of Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India,[1] the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) de-bundled spectrum allotment from the grant of licenses, and adopted an auction-based price-discovery mechanism for spectrum allotment.

Scarce radio spectrum resources have typically been considered as bottleneck assets, and therefore auctions provide an effective means of price discovery, help maximise revenue for the Government, and ensure optimal allocation of spectrum resources. However, excessive reliance on bid markets risks overlooking potential market failures attributable to enterprises attempting to monopolise bottleneck assets such as spectrum.

Recognising the need to ensure that no one operator should be able to monopolise scarce spectrum resources to the detriment of its competitors and consumers, the DoT, in successive Notice Inviting Applications (NIAs) has prescribed ceilings for the amount of spectrum that can be held by any telecommunications operator in a given band within a Licensed Service Area (LSA), as well as a ceiling on the total amount of spectrum that can be held by an operator across all bands in an LSA. Presently, these stand at 50% of any given spectrum band in an LSA, and 25% of the overall spectrum available in such LSA across all bands. These restrictions have also been incorporated into the Mergers and Acquisitions Guidelines of 2014 (M&A Guidelines) as prescribed by the DoT.

Continue Reading Time to Revisit Spectrum Caps and Market Shares