Convergence: An idea whose time has come?

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The latest information of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) being renamed the Digital Communications Regulatory Authority of India (DCRAI) and the federal government’s Telecom policymaking physique, the Telecom Commission, being rechristened Digital Communications Commission didn’t make a lot of an impression.

The risk that policymaking on key digital points comparable to information privateness and cybercrime may very well be formally moved from the Ministry of Electronics & IT (MeitY) to TRAI didn’t seize many eyeballs. Yet these may very well be the primary strikes in a long-pending effort to reorganise and modernise the construction of communications regulation in India, with doubtlessly main ramifications.

Regulatory construction

Communications regulation in India is split between three very totally different authorities ministries:

1. MeitY, which is supposed to cope with all issues associated to the web, and functions and providers which use the web (typically known as ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) functions).

2. Ministry of Communications (MoC), which incorporates the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and TRAI. DoT offers broadly with all regulation pertaining to the Telecom sector and the Telecom Commission, nee Digital Communications Commission, is the apex decision-making physique inside DoT. TRAI is an unbiased regulator with the ability to difficulty binding rules on Telecom tariffs, interconnection, and high quality of service.

3. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), which offers with the regulation of broadcast (terrestrial, satellite tv for pc, and cable) tv and cinema.

Consumers in India are quickly changing their TVs, film halls, banks, and retailer fronts with decisions made on one gadget: the cell phone | Photo: Rajesh Subramanian

While ministries and departments on this house have been merged and damaged up through the years, together with as just lately as 2016, at a bureaucratic degree this regulatory construction has broadly stayed the identical for practically twenty years.

What is convergence?

Even a cursory look at this regulatory schema reveals how unwieldy it’s within the face of current technological and industrial realities. Since the flip of the millennium, the short evolution of communications from analog to digital, and of networks from circuit-switched to packet-switched, have made the idea of purely carriage-based regulation increasingly more untenable. The idea of a single ‘converged’ regulator to deal with all kinds of communications, whatever the medium, is more and more the worldwide customary. While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) within the United States is an instance (although it has arguably all the time been a converged regulator), the Office of Communications (Ofcom) within the UK might be extra pertinent, provided that it was conceived in 2001 to soak up the features of 5 separate regulators.

India is not any stranger to this idea: approach again in 2001, the Communications Convergence Bill launched beneath a earlier NDA authorities and shepherded by the late Pramod Mahajan got here near fulfilling this imaginative and prescient. It envisaged organising a single regulator known as the Communications Commission of India, the repeal of at the least 5 main legal guidelines together with the traditional Telegraph Act, 1885 which regulates Telecom, and a brand new period of Technology-agnostic regulation. The Bill nevertheless finally fell sufferer to turf wars and was quietly buried in 2003. Rumours of the same invoice surfaced in 2013 and once more in 2014 as soon as the current NDA authorities took workplace, however no such draft has surfaced within the 4 years since.

Pramod Mahajan, communications minister under the previous NDA government, had shepherded the Communications Convergence Bill way back in 2001  Convergence: An idea whose time has come? Pramod Mahajan
Pramod Mahajan, communications minister beneath the earlier NDA authorities, had shepherded the Communications Convergence Bill approach again in 2001

Recent occasions

Since 2015, TRAI has used its statutory energy to conduct consultations on points past its binding regulatory remit to push the envelope and check boundaries. As ‘OTT services’ began to nibble away on the margins of the foremost telcos by offering textual content messaging and even VoIP calls at a fraction of the price of competing telco SMS and voice providers, its 2015 session on a ‘Regulatory Framework for OTT Services’ touched off a storm inside trade and coverage circles. While no suggestions have been issued, the discussions surrounding the session foreshadowed most of the necessary digital coverage points confronting India at the moment, together with web neutrality, information privateness, and encrypted communications.

Subsequent consultations on points comparable to cloud computing continued to push into coverage territory historically held by MeitY, culminating within the latest TRAI suggestions on privateness and information safety which have been issued mere weeks earlier than the MeitY-appointed Justice Srikrishna Committee delivered its remaining report and draft invoice on information safety.

In parallel, India is within the midst of an unprecedented explosion in digital providers, which is seeing the emergence of recent kinds of client behaviour, know-how platforms, and industrial fashions. The proliferation of quick 4G networks and low cost cell information has facilitated convergence, as individuals have began to exchange televisions, film theatres, and ATMs with their smartphone. TRAI has been in a position to emphasise the centrality of Telecom infrastructure to all of those providers to stake its regulatory declare, with little pushback.

Will TRAI (and DoT) be king?

TRAI in its two-decade existence has constructed a considerable observe file on the subject of coverage improvement and drafting. It has a confirmed potential to hold out detailed financial evaluation because of its key function in tariff regulation. It has devoted analysis workers engaged on new points comparable to web neutrality, and in more moderen years has developed deep relationships with subtle think-tanks who can work with them to strengthen analysis and evaluation. Its session course of, whereas nonetheless presenting room for enchancment, is in some ways the gold customary for consultative policymaking in India, with established and clear strategies of public remark and counter-comment. In distinction, each MeitY and MIB arguably don’t have everlasting our bodies with comparable experience and institutional data to assist with formulating coverage.

So, might it then be the plan for TRAI and DoT to steadily develop its formal scope, and finally play a job just like a converged communications regulator?

OTT, or over the top, services provided text and internet calling services pushing aside more expensive SMS and voice calling offered by telcos   Convergence: An idea whose time has come? Convergence Story Inside 1
OTT, or excessive, providers offered textual content and web calling providers pushing apart costlier SMS and voice calling provided by telcos

This is actually attainable, however would nonetheless be an advanced transfer. While stories converse of ‘amendments to existing laws’ to convey information safety and cybersecurity inside TRAI and DoT’s remit, it’s completely unclear if this might imply amendments to the principles of enterprise which apportion coverage portfolios between ministries, or a broader reconfiguration. For instance, MeitY has all powers and obligations beneath the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), the supply of all web regulation. It is then troublesome to reconcile TRAI/DoT coping with cybersecurity or information privateness, that are indivisible from different web regulation, with out being handed over cost of the entire IT Act.

Given these realities, it’s obscure what sort of long-term roadmap is feasible with no main regulatory overhaul alongside the strains of the 2001 Convergence Bill. Given the enormity of this train, and the expense of political capital required to push such an initiative via, it’s attainable that the federal government has opted for a less complicated train within the interim by increasing TRAI and DoT’s powers to fill the regulatory vacuum left within the wake of quickly evolving digital platforms in a world of outdated regulatory buildings.

Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Jay Vijayan and Girish Mathrubootham amongst its traders. Accel Partners and Blume Ventures are enterprise capital corporations with investments in a number of firms. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founding father of Paytm. Jay Vijayan and Girish Mathrubootham are entrepreneurs and angel traders. None of FactorDaily’s traders has any affect on its reporting about India’s know-how and startup ecosystem.

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