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Convergence bill set for a review

09-April-2004
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Convergence bill set for a review

A thorough review of the Communications Convergence Bill is likely, for which work has already been initiated in communications, IT and information and broadcasting ministries, according to sources in the government. The new government, when it comes to power within two months, will have to take a call on the issue. The Convergence Bill has been on the backburner for several months now.

An inter-ministerial consultation is expected soon after the new government is in place.

A source in the communications & IT ministry was emphatic that inputs from the I&B ministry are needed, along with those from finance and law, before a final view is taken on the issue.

Some basic concerns are being raised, in order to effect the changes in the legislation. One of the questions being asked in top-level bureaucratic and industry circles: Is India ready for a super-regulator or the Communications Commission of India (CCI), as envisaged in the Convergence Bill? Also, shouldn’t there be four to five regulators to begin with, which can then be merged into a super-regulator, over a period of time? That’s how, UK’s regulatory body - Oftel - has emerged, which is being cited as a fine example by stakeholders in India.

Another view is that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) could be made more powerful. Trai could perhaps emerge as something close to a super-regulator or CCI, as an official quipped.

The CCI, as envisaged in the Bill, was to have powers to regulate the telecom and broadcasting sector, and manage spectrum. Interestingly, as we’ve already seen, Trai has increasingly emerged powerful over the past few months. Apart from telecom, it has been given powers to tackle broadcasting issues also. At present, even as spectrum allocation is done by the Wireless Planning Commission (WPC) under the ministry of communications, Trai is now working on the important issue of spectrum pricing. It is expected to issue recommendations to the government on the same.

Ahead of elections, ministers and bureaucrats, who were contacted by FE, refused to go on record about the Convergence Bill, as it’s a policy issue.

But, a lack of consensus on the Bill is quite clear, both within and outside the government. Business chamber Ficci, which had undertaken a study on the Convergence Bill, did not find too many takers on the concept of a single-regulator either.

As for government, the I&B ministry has pointed at several lacunae in the existing legislation. One, it’s a telephony-centric Bill. Two, it does not address the issue of monitoring media content in the manner it deserves.

“Broadcasting is a different kettle of fish. Can a purely technical commission address content issues?” an official argued. One of the suggestions doing the round is that there should be a regulator each for television, radio, Internet and telephony. But again, the problem here is, who’ll have the final say.

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