Communication Convergence Bill, 2000 by Mayurakshi Sarkar at Lexcliq
There has been a dramatic shift in the communications industry, which has led to the emergence of a wide range of new services. Because of I digitization, which has reduced the cost of computation; a lower bandwidth price; and telecom sector deregulation, which has allowed for newcomers, this convergence has occurred. Broadcasters, internet providers, as well as telecommunications companies, now offer high-bandwidth two-way communication services as a result of these processes. As technology continues to merge, the bill's primary goal is to promote and grow the overall communications industry. A new law on convergence in India wants to put it ahead of other countries around the world.
Meaning of Convergence
The Bill does not define the term "convergence." Diverse types of services can be delivered over existing infrastructure, and existing technologies can be enhanced to provide a wider range of services through convergence. Telecommunications, computers, and media have become more intertwined. With the convergence of technologies, cable television, basic phone service, and Internet access can all be provided to consumers through a single infrastructure, making it possible to make cheap Internet phone calls, use televisions to access the Internet, download movies from the Internet, and use mobile phone networks for e-mail, data transfer, and internet access, among other things.
Aim of the Bill
A major goal of the bill is to create a regulatory environment that can accommodate and spread any combination and permutation of technology and services. Network infrastructure facilities, network services, application services, and content application services will be licensed under four categories under the Bill to ensure a technology-neutral and service sector-neutral environment.
Communication Commission of India
The bill creates an independent authority named the Communication Commission of India (CCI). The CCI will have its headquarters in New Delhi and regional offices in Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai.
The Commission consists of a Chairperson, seven members, and the Spectrum Manager. President, Vice-President, and members (excluding ex-officio members) are appointed by the Central Government. A government employee must retire or resign before becoming a Chairperson or full-time member.
The Chairperson and full-time Members serve for five years, or until they reach the age of 65, whichever comes first. The Chairperson and full-time members are not re-appointable. In addition to presiding over Commission meetings, the Chairperson shall exercise and fulfill all authorities and functions delegated to him by the Commission.
The Commission appoints the Secretary-General, who is its Chief Executive Officer and has the authorities and functions outlined in the regulations. The Commission may ask the Central Government for a panel of three officers who are eligible to be appointed as Secretary-General.
Consequences of License Agreement Violations
The Bill provides a hefty penalty of Rs. 50 crores under Chapter X, Section 33, if a licensee violates any of the terms and conditions of the license. The same goes for disobeying a lawful rule, regulation, or directive. The Commission may also suspend, cancel, or limit the licensee's rights under the chapter. It may also seize the equipment used to provide the service. The equipment cannot be kept for more than 90 days without Appellate Tribunal consent. A person who sends any communication using unlicensed equipment or equipment operated in violation of the proposed Act or any rules or regulations imposed thereunder may be fined up to Rupees 10 crores.
The Bill's Weaknesses
India’s government hurried through the Convergence Bill to become the world's second country to have a communication convergence law. As part of the Bill, a super-regulator called the CCI will be created. However, a quick read of the Bill disproves this. The government would regulate the process of selecting CCI members. It's easy to see that the government has kept the authority to interfere in every clause of the Bill. To be safe, one can assume the government will overlook the CCI, given its capacity to exempt anyone from licensing. The autonomy of CCI will be squandered.
According to the bill, the CCI must implement all government policy orders. The Government alone determines whether a guideline is a policy directive. This will clearly show the government's lack of commitment to giving the CCI any meaningful independence. The government can easily bulldoze the CCI under the guise of providing policy guidelines.
As a result of studying the proposed convergence legislation, it's clear that the centrality of the CCI's autonomy, on which the bill's promoters rely, is nothing more than a publicity trick. An examination by professionals in a thorough manner is necessary for the bill's approval or denial. There will be a flood of litigation if the Bill gets passed in its current form. As a lawyer who specializes in convergence issues, I would be delighted. However, in light of the greater good, the Bill should indeed be carefully examined, and efforts taken to provide the CCI actual autonomy.