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Telecom Bill 2023: What Facebook-parent Meta’s head of India Public Policy told employees in email – Times of India

The Parliament passed the Telecommunications Bill, 2023, which seeks to amend the laws relating to telecommunication services and networks, earlier this week. The bill, introduced by Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on December 13, would allow for the government to temporarily take control of telecom services in the interest of national security.Several right groups and OTT players have expressed concerns over the bill. Facebook parent Meta is reportedly concerned that over the top (OTT) services would come under the ambit of the proposed legislation.
Although the reference to ‘OTT’ has been removed from the current version of the legislation that allows the government to intercept messages, set standards of encryption and take control of telecom networks, experts are worried about the broad definitions of ‘telecommunication services’ and ‘messages’ in the bill.
According to a report in MoneyControl, Shivnath Thukral, Director and Head of India Public Policy at Meta, relayed the same concerns to his colleagues in an email, on the same day Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw tabled the bill in the Lok Sabha on December 18. Moneycontrol has seen a copy of the email.
What email says
“The revised Bill text is now (in) the public domain. In a very positive movement, all explicit references to OTTs have been removed from the Bill…However, some ambiguity remains – as the definitions of “telecommunications services”, “telecommunications identifier” and “messages” could be interpreted to implicitly include OTT services, even if without explicit mention,” Thukral reportedly wrote in the email.
“Arguably, even after the removal of OTTs from these definitions, the Govt could have sufficient discretion to designate OTTs as a telecommunications service, and bring them under an authorisation regime, in case it chooses to do so via delegated legislation at a future date,” he added.
In the email, Thukral also mentioned that he had a conversation with ‘the Minister’, who conveyed that the government does not intend to regulate OTTs under telecom law.
Some experts are said to argue that online communication platforms such as WhatsApp, Gmail, Signal deal with the transmission, emission, or reception of messages over optical or electromagnetic systems, and hence can fall under the regulatory structure of the bill.
Incidentally, the telecom minister Vaishnaw has said over-the-top (OTT) players or applications won’t be covered under the new telecom bill and will continue to be regulated by the Information Technology Act of 2000. The minister’s statement on the issue are aimed to allay concerns raised by some app makers like Meta, Signal and others that the broad definition of ‘telecommunications’ can be interpreted to cover any internet-based communication, said industry executives and experts.

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