Convergence Bill- The Objectives
naavi.org/CCB-note 1

Technological developments are posing a huge challenge to the law makers. The unprecedented growth in  Internet as a medium for Commerce has already necessitated the passage of the Information Technology Act-2000 (ITA 2000) which has given 

a) Legal recognition for Electronic Documents and Digital Signatures
b) Definition of various kinds of Cyber Crimes
c) A justice dispensation mechanism for handling Cyber Crimes.

Close on the heels of this landmark legislation, the continued developments in the technology that drives the Internet has now brought us to the threshold of another significant piece of legislation in the form of the Communication Convergence Bill. (CCB).

The need for this legislation has been forced on the society because the present laws that govern the areas of Telecom and Broadcasting have been found insufficient to meet the needs of the present day requirement. They had been framed when each of the communication medium such as the Telephones, Radio, Television had evolved independently over a long period and were governed by different sets of law. 

Gradually, the wired network of the Telephony and the Wireless network of the Audio broadcasting started exploiting the satellite communication facility along with the Television broadcasting. Thus resources such as “Satellite Communication Bandwidth” became common to the different media. Thus the concept of “Convergence of the Media” emerged.

Today, Technology has brought Internet, Broadcasting and Telephony on a single  platform of distribution. In the consumer’s perspective the Personal Computer today is a Communication device which can also be used for Telephony as well as receiving audio and video broadcasts. Similarly, the Web TV can be used for surfing the Internet and for sending E-Mails. The WAP has converted the mobile phone into an E-Commerce tool. In the business perspective, the infrastructure available for meeting the needs of one of the media can be more effectively utilized if applied to other media as well. Thus an Internet Service provider thinks of “Internet telephony” and the “TV broadcaster” thinks of “Internet delivery of TV Content”, as a natural business strategy.

The historic legal framework which had not envisioned this convergence, naturally failed to fulfill the aspirations of the society since they placed artificial barriers of “licensing” on various service providers as well as the consumers. This led to flouting of law by many individuals as well as service providers. 

Recognizing the changing needs of the society, Indian Government has now decided to revise the legal framework applicable to the Broadcast and Telecom sectors so that the benefits of technology can be  harnessed.  This appreciation of the need for ‘Convergence Laws” has been brought out in the objects of the Bill which states as follows:

One of the basic objectives of this Act is to provide for a regulatory mechanism, which facilitates convergence and therefore, remains valid over a period of time. Convergence in this context means convergence of mediums or technologies facilitating provision of all services by using a given facility or network and vice versa. It also means convergence of services at the provider's end as well as the consumer's end, meaning, thereby, a service provider should be able to provide a whole range of technologically feasible services and a consumer should be able to receive all services through a given terminal at any time and place of his choice.”
In order to remove the hurdles arising out of past legislations, the Bill will repeal many of the earlier legislations such as 
The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885,
The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933, 
Telegraph Wire Unlawful Possession Act, 1950, 
Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and 
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997.
The licensees who are operating under the provisions of these laws will now be required to make a fresh application for license within 6 months of the Act coming into force with the appropriate authority under the new Act.
India is said to be only the second country in the Asian region to bring a separate Bill for the Convergence Industry and we need to appreciate the futuristic thinking which is behind this bold initiative. 

It is however inevitable that  a legislation such as the CCB which is aimed at a basic change of structure in a part of the society becomes  a complicated exercise and the legislators may stumble and make mistakes. But if the intention is right, it is not difficult to make course corrections that enable the legislation to be close to the aspirations of the society. It is in this spirit that knowledgeable sections of the society has to participate in the debate preceding the finalisation of the Bill and make their valuable comments and suggestions available to the Government. 

In order to assist the Government in pooling the suggestions, we invite the readers to send in their comments for consolidation on the naavi.org site. The New Media Forum which has recently come in to being in India will also try to organize a workshop/debate to gather such opinion which can be consolidated and forwarded to the Government.  Your contributions are therefore welcome.

February 6, 2001

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