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India is crowdsourcing ideas for its telecommunication reform

Last update of telecom law occurred before the internet even existed

India’s Department of Telecommunications has put out a consultation paper calling for input into generational reform of its telecommunication laws.

Issued over the weekend, the paper notes that India's most recent major comms law was passed in 1951.

In 1997 India had 15 million phone subscribers, but now has over 1.17 billion, many using tech that did not even exist in 1997, never mind when the laws were written in 1951.

The paper points out inadequacies in India's current laws, such as a need for:

  • Airwaves allocation made through a combination of policies and court orders without regulatory clarity or legal framework for the common good and enabling widespread access;
  • Provisions to re-farm and harmonize frequency range if repurposing or rearranging is needed;
  • Need for improvement to ensure continuity of connectivity;
  • Right of Way framework with provisions for dispute resolution;
  • Establishing common ducts and cable corridors in infrastructure projects;
  • Simplified mergers and acquisitions;
  • Addressing of insolvency related issues with a focus on continuity of service;
  • A framework for the government to prescribe standards for telecom equipment, services, network, and infrastructure; and
  • Revision of penalty schemes.

"Emergence of new technologies such as 5G, Internet of Things, etc, among others, offer many opportunities to transform the lives of millions of Indians. It is important to have a modern and future-ready legal framework which addresses the realities of telecommunication in 21st century India," the consultation paper says, before declaring: "India needs a new law which is clear, precise, and attuned to the realities of the sector for realizing the potential of telecommunication."

While the ministry has published the paper and set a deadline for responses of August 25, it has not set a timeline for delivery of a reformed law. Perhaps that is because the ministry has been busy with another big job this week: running an auction for 5G spectrum.

The auction [PDF] is expected to see bids of up to $14 billion from four companies including Adani Data, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea, and Bharti Airtel ahead of India's 5G service launch in late 2022.

Winning bids will retain the rights to a block of 72 gigahertz of 5G spectrum in various frequency bands from 600 megahertz to 26 gigahertz for 20 years. ®

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