Communication Convergence Bill, 2001

The Communications Convergence Bill, 2001 (Convergence Bill) aims at promoting, facilitating and developing the carriage and content of communications including broadcasting, telecommunication and multimedia in an orderly manner. It recognizes the coming together of voice, video and data, aims to set up a single super-regulator for the telecom, Internet and broadcasting sectors, to be called the Communications Commission of India (CCI). The Convergence Bill will replace the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the TRAI Act, 1997.

In the present scenario different services like basic telecom, cellular, Internet and satellite television have different licenses and are regulated by different agencies. The present situation does not allow bundling of services, like your cable operator cannot offer you telecommunication services, your ISP cannot carry voice etc. The licensing regime that exists as of today service operator has to apply for licenses separately and are permitted based on the regulations governing service. This would change with the adoption of the Communication Convergence Bill, 2000.Recommendations of the Bill: The Convergence Bill proposes to have a single authority Communications Commission of India responsible for issuance of licenses and regulating the communications sector including the infrastructure and the content delivered through the infrastructure. The bill also proposes setting up Communications Appellate Tribunal. Any person aggrieved by any decision or order or penalty of the commission could appeal to the tribunal for speedy decision on the appeal. The commission and the appellate tribunal have been given power equivalent of a civil court. Responsibilities of the Commission.The commission would be responsible for providing licenses under four categories namely:
1. Network Infrastructure facilities (Infrastructure Service Provider)
2. Network Services (Network Service Providers)
3. Application Services (Application Service Providers)
4. Content application services (Content ASP)

The classification is technology neutral and service sector neutral. The segmentation of the market into the four different segments would be based on the services provided . Each layer is dependent on one or more of the earlier layers for the provision of services. The Act, it is hoped, shall usher in the era of convergent handling of communication medium in place, ie the Communication Commission of India shall be responsible of handling basic telephony, cellular service, cable, satellite channel and Internet service operators. The bill shall segment the market on the basis of the layers as illustrated above. This
would enable operators to obtain licenses for the specific layer rather than for the service. For eg an operator could take license for offering only infrastructure facility with the services being offered by some other operator. Hughes Tele.com, the private basic service operator for Maharashtra would be able to offer services like telephony, Internet (it offers these even today), interactive content or any other service over the cable coming into your home.

The Convergent View “Convergence” refers to the fact that different kinds of communication services, whether in the form of voice, text or video, can be provided using the same basic infrastructural facility, and similarly, different kinds of infrastructural facilities can be utilised to provide the same service. For instance, share prices can be accessed via the Internet on a PC or through the wireless medium on a mobile phone. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Bill lies in the name itself. It recognises the “blurring of borders between telecommunications, computing and media” . Further, it also acknowledges that “The continuous development of new technologies results in an inability to predict the future evolution of convergence viz. the development of new services like web-casting, Internet Telephony etc. resulting in the need for regulations which does (sic) not aim to predict the future, but aspires to be flexible enough to accommodate and propagate any permutation and combination of technologies and services.” The Bill, smartly enough, has steered clear of burdening itself with technological details.

The three key aspects in any communication are : The infrastructure facilities used, such as earth stations, satellites, cables, etc. The kind of service provided such as telephony, broadcast of cricket matches, etc. The technology used to provide the service The Convergence Bill does not concern itself with the third aspect above. It only seeks to regulate the communication sector based on the nature of infrastructural facility and the nature of service provided. The basic objectives Irrespective of the infrastructure or technology used, long distance communication is based on electromagnetic waves, of varying frequency.

In order to ensure hassle-free communication, a proper allocation of frequency bands to various service providers is crucial . For this purpose, the Bill proposes the setting up of a Spectrum Management Committee, which will earmark distinctfrequency bands for use in strategic and commercial purposes.
The Bill also envisages the setting up of the Communications Commission of India, which will be the regulatory agency on the communications sector. The Commission will be responsible for assigning the various frequencies (earmarked by the Spectrum Management Committee for commercial purposes) among the various users, and giving out licences to service providers.

The objectives of the Commission, as listed in the draft Bill, are as follows: “The Communications Commission of India, while exercising its functions shall be guided by the following principles:
(i) that the communication sector is developed in a competitive environment and that market dominance in a converged environment is suitably regulated;
(ii) that communication services are made available at affordable cost to all uncovered areas including the rural, remote, hilly and tribal areas;
(iii) that there is increasing access to information for greater empowerment of citizens and towards economic development;
(iv) that quality, plurality, diversity and choice of services are promoted;
(v) that a modern and effective communication infrastructure is established taking into account the convergence of information
technology, media, telecom and consumer electronics;
(vi) that defence and security interests of the country are fully protected;
(vii) that introduction of new technologies, investment in services and infrastructure, and maximization of communications facilities and services (including telephone density) are encouraged;
(viii) that equitable, non-discriminatory interconnection across various networks are promoted;
(ix) that licensing criteria are transparent and made known to the public;
(x) that an open licensing policy allowing any number of new entrants (except in specific cases constrained by limited resources such as the spectrum)is promoted; and
(xi) that the principle of a level playing field for all operators serving consumer interest, including existing operators on the date of commencement of the Act, is promoted.”


Effects :-


With the bill adopted, service operators would be able to offer multiple services over the same network. This shall reduce the cost and other overheads for the operator. The bill defines the physical network, network services and the content delivered over them independently thus enabling the use of the same network to carry multitude of services. This shall help solve the anomaly of having a separate license and network for say offering Internet, telephony and cable services . The bill shall increase the value of companies in the communications business specially the businesses owning the last mile access like MTNL, Hughes Tele.com, BSNL etc. The cable operator in your colony would have the best of the world with his network. He could now also start bundling telephone services, Internet and other value added services than just the plain old un-interactive cable television. Licensing Regime under the Bill.

The Convergence Bill also provides for a new licensing regime, with a limited number of five licenses, which include network infrastructure facilities, networking services, network application services, content application services and value-added network application services. While granting licences, the CCI may grant them either singly or jointly, depending upon the nature of services to be offered. Therefore, while providing Internet telephony services, the service provider would have to obtain the network application services licence and probably the value-added network application services licence under the Convergence Bill.


Classification of Internet Telephony Under The WTO


The General Agreement of Trade in Services (GATS) under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) envisages the progressive liberalisation of trade in telecommunications services. Though, India has made no specific commitments for Internet telephony, it has made certain commitments for other telecommunication services. Going forward, it would be important for the Indian Government to understand how Internet telephony services could be classified under the GATS framework while making any commitments.

Under GATS, telephony falls within the purview of telecommunications services as per the Central Product Classification System (CPC) . Telecommunications services are further classified as basic telecommunications and value-added telecommunications. It would be useful to see what commitments India has made in this sector and analyse how Internet telephony can be classified for the purposes of GATS.

(a) Basic Telecommunications Services vis–vis Internet Telephony Basic telecommunications services are further classified as:
(i) Voice telephone;
(ii) Packet- switched data transmission;
(iii) Circuit- switched data transmission;
(iv) Telex;
(v) Telegraph;
(vi) Facsimile;
(vii) Private leased circuit;
(viii) Other – including mobile communications, and various others, (e.g.satellite services, paging, trunked radio) depending upon the country.
For the purpose of Internet telephony services, voice telephone, packet-switched data transmission and other services would be relevant. Of these three, India has made commitments with respect to voice telephone and other services.

(i) Voice Telephone
Voice Telephony Services have not been defined or explained under the GATS.

View of the European Union:
It would be helpful to look at the definition of voice telephony according to Article 1 of the Directive of European Union, which
defines Voice Telephony as the commercial provision for the public of the direct transport and switching of speech in real time between Public Switched Network termination points, enabling any user to communicate with another termination point. Further as per the said Directive, Internet telephony is defined as Voice Telephony if it meets the following criteria:
the communications are subject of a commercial offer; the service is provided for the public; the service is provided to and from public switched network termination points on fixed telephony network; and,it involves direct transport of speech in real-time.

As per this definition, it can be understood that the first two forms of Internet Telephony (i.e. PC to PC and PC to Phone) would not be characterised as Voice Telephony under this Directive, simply because the service would not be provided solely “to and from PSTN points”.

View of the United States: However, the US meaning of voice telephony is broader. As per Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of USA, IP telephony services enable real-time voice transmission using Internet Protocols.

Voice Telephony as Public Telephone Services: Under the CPC, voice telephony services are classified as Public Telephone Services. Public Telephone Services are further classified as Public local telephone services Public long distance telephone services.


Mobile telephone services

With respect to voice telephone service, Indias commitments are limited to local/long distance, for public use over a public telecommunication transport network and wire based (i.e. for fixed network of subscribers) services. The Internet is a public network of computers and can be used for transport of telecommunications, such as voice and data. Thus, it could be interpreted as a public telecommunication transport network in case of Internet telephony.
As mentioned earlier, the main difference between Internet telephony and normal telephony is that whereas in normal telephony, circuit switching is used, Internet Telephony is based on packet switching technology . In packet switching, electronic transmissions are chopped into packets of varying numbers of bytes. Each packet is given a header or address label, and sent from one network node towards another . The packets are (theoretically) bounced along from one router to another, armed at each hop with only enough information to get them safely to another router, where the process is repeated. By contrast, on circuit-switched networks operating under a protocol such as Signalling System 7 (SS7) a call is routed through a hierarchy of local, inter-urban and international switches to establish a circuit between caller and called party.

Though Internet Telephony could amount to voice telephony, it is suggested that it should fall under a separate new category as it involves a different form of technology from traditional voice telephone services. This proposition can be supported by the fact that a separate classification was resorted to with respect to mobile telephone services based upon the technological difference between mobile telephony and normal telephony.

Further, India has not made any specific commitments under voice telephone for Mode 1(cross-border supply) and Mode 2 (consumption abroad) of supply under the GATS. Therefore, even if Internet telephony is treated as voice telephony, by opening up Internet telephony, India is already a step ahead since it has not made any specific commitments in this respect.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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