Indian Convergence Law – Forever 'in the Pipelines'?

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Back in the year 2001, when the same government was in power, it tried to pass a bill called the Communication Convergence Bill, 2001. The Bill failed, due to reasons mentioned later in the post, but apparently it isn’t quite ready to die yet.  The Bill has now been revived as the Communication Convergence Bill, 2014, with news reports indicating that the Telecom Minister is quite definitely going to push for it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Government seems to be lagging a bit behind its own claims in this regard. These claims were originally made in September, with the Minister stating that the Bill would be ready in time for the Winter Session of the Parliament. And yet, with the Session already over, there seem to be nearly no indications of its existence. But though time will only tell what the future of this Bill is going to be, right now seems to be a good time to examine the issues involved therein.

Media Convergence: A short definition

‘Media Convergence’ is essentially the ‘convergence’ of all pre-existing ‘media’ of communication, which different types of data could use to travel from one point to another, into one, singular medium – the internet. Thus, the old and new separate mediums for text, voice, and video communications are all now converging into the internet, which can carry all types of data, the only limitation being the ability of the receiver to interpret it.

Convergence Regulation, the issues it faces and the 2014 Bill

Now, there is already quite a complex and bureaucratic system in place for the governance of the various media, to differing extents. The existence of the internet creates a certain degree of redundancy and overlap between the existing bodies, which is why arguments are made for the revamp of the existing system. But, famously and accurately, ‘change’ is something that doesn’t really come easily to the bureaucratic systems.

The perfect example of this in the present context is the fact that the previous 2001 Bill on the same issue failed because of turf wars between the Ministry of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. And it seems that those concerns are not quite dead yet – TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar isn’t quite sure of the merits of the Bill, and has stated that unless structural changes are brought in first, the Bill will fail again. (Crucially, his response is based on newsreports alone, and not on a draft of the Bill.)

 And the changes purportedly proposed by the 2014 Bill are quite, quite drastic. These include:

  1. Repeal of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act (1933), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950, and modification of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act, 1995.
  2. The creation of a ‘super regulator’ body, the ‘Communications Commission’ which would have a Communications Appellate Tribunal, to replace the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal) (TDSAT and the TRAI.
  3. The body will be given some powers from the Censor Board, the Ministry of Environment, the Competition Commission, and the Department of Telecom.
  4. The body will be in-charge of regulation of content as well as carriage.

Some of the aims that the Bill aims to achieve are:

  1. Giving legal recognition for transactions carried out using electronic data interchange and other means of electronic communication.
  2. Adoption of the United Nation General Assembly’s Model Law on eCommerce into Indian law.

Keeping in mind the failure of the last Bill, the already evident delays faces by this one, and the turf issues that already seem to be springing up, it does not seem that the Communication Convergence Bill, 2014, will see the light of day anytime soon. Its chances of actually being implemented seem are also quite, quite low.

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