What is Telecom or Telecommunication?
It is a proven fact that before any other traits a human could adapt but first was being a gossiper. Communication or commute refers to movement from one place to another. Today, such a term plays an essential part in our lives. Similarly, telecommunication means the exchange of information over significant distances by electronic means across the network. Networks like Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) are one of the many sources where information is transferred from one client and server to another. The process is a matter of seconds. Telecom devices include telephones, microwave communication arrangements, radio, satellites, telegraph and the Internet.
What Act governs the telecommunication sector?
The expansion of mobile communication as a source of information has transformed the telecommunication sector as it was yesterday. The sector is governed under an Act of Parliament established in the year 1997 called the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act (TRAI). The Act was brought to control the deficiencies, loopholes and unfair practices that came to begin in the telecom sector because of the pivotal of any monopoly. Section 3 of the Act gives such authority the power to control and supervise the activities held under the sector. The Act protects the people to preserve their interests and seek remedy when in conflict.
Role of the Act
The TRAI Act came into effect on 20 February 1997 to regulate telecom services including taxation and fixation of tariffs. The Act includes the following powers and functions:
- Protect the interest of the consumers and promote the growth of the telecom sector in India.
- Recommend the introduction of a new service provider and issuing a license to such for smooth practices.
- Monitor the quality of services, inspect equipment and make recommendations about such types of equipment.
- Advise the Government on matters related to the telecom sector and other charges for services related to levy fees.
- Facilitate healthy competition and promote growth and efficiency of the industry.
- Lay down a proper system for providing long-distance.
Who is the Settlement authority?
The Act 1997 established the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal under Section 14 as the sole authority to engage in the dispute resolution process in the communication sector. The tribunal can be approached by any local authority appointed by the Central Government or State Government where matters of dispute relate between:
- Licensor and licensee.
- Two or more service providers
- A group of consumers and service providers
A Chairperson is appointed as the standing authority along with two other members, who are or has been a judge of the Supreme Court or a Chief Justice of a High Court with a minimum qualification that he should have had a post of a secretary to the Central or any other post of equivalence. He shall hold the office for three complete years or till he attains 75 years, whichever comes earlier.
The procedure under Section 14 A of the Act
Any local authority or person, Central Government or State Government can approach the Tribunal for redressal on the matters of dispute. An appeal can be filed to the tribunal within 30 days from the date the parties receive the decision or direction given by the TRAI. The parties are given ample opportunity to be heard regarding the decision given by the tribunal. They can make recommendations to the Government regarding matters of new service providers, type of equipment, spectrum management, lay down standard of quality of service, ensure technicality and compatibility of interconnection between different service providers, registration of interconnected agreements between the service providers and the members, levying of fees and other charges at a certain rate, etc. the recommendations are not binding on the Central Government. However, they are required to ask for such recommendations by the TRAI. Trai has to furnish such recommendations to the Central within 60 days from the date of request and the Central shall make recommendations within seven days from the date of request. The recommendations generated have to be notified in the official gazette. Under section 12 TRAI has the power to call for an investigation to ensure transparency while exercising their rights.
Other functions of TRAI
- Compliance with the terms and conditions to ensure the issue of directions or recommendations of termination of the license.
- Fix interconnectivity of service providers between client and server.
- Prescribe period for local as well as long-distance circuits of telecom.
- Responsibility for levy of fees and other charges as per Section 11 (1) (c) of the Act.
- Empowered to issue directions for carrying out necessary functions prescribed under Section 13 of the Act.
The competitors of Jio highly claimed that TRAI has played a significant role in making a market for Reliance’s Jio which permitted Jio to take tests on its services. This was also opposed by the Cellular Operators Association. TRAI was accused of bending in favour of Jio. The matter was claimed as a highly controversial topic for a long time.
There were companies like Bharati Airtel and Vodaphone that alleged TRAI for favouring only one company. TRAI constantly tried to resolve this issue but the clarificatory comments given by the authority were not admitted to be satisfying.
Another controversy was regarding the privacy and security ownership of data in the telecom sector. TRAI was criticised by many people including the UIDAI, who gave instructions to the citizens not to share their Aadhar numbers with others.
The introduction of such authority yielded many benefits to the telecom industry. The Act brought growth and development to the country with its policies and regulations. It allowed the public to include private companies and public companies to engage in healthy competition. The directions, recommendations and regulations of such authority have helped the industry in rapid transformation. The involvement of the Central has also helped in stable and smooth efficiency in the functioning of the Act.
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