India Enacts Telecom Legislation Allowing for Starlink Implementation Despite Privacy Worries

India’s parliament recently passed a telecommunications bill, aiming to modernize connectivity and embrace new services, including satellite broadband, just ahead of upcoming general elections. This bill replaces the country’s century-old rules and allows the government to control telecom services and networks for national security interests.

The bill provides spectrum allocation for satellite-based services without participating in auctions, favoring companies like OneWeb, Starlink, and Amazon’s Kuiper. It also mandates biometric verification for subscribers and imposes civil penalties for infringing specific provisions and breaching terms defined in the law.

In a bid to attract foreign investors, the bill includes amendments to the telecom regulator aimed at expanding private participation. Notably, the bill allows private sector executives with significant experience to be appointed as the regulator’s chairperson, a significant departure from the previous rules.

The telecom bill also excludes the term “OTT,” indicating regulations for over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. However, industry bodies and digital rights activists have raised concerns over the lack of clarity and public consultations for the bill’s final version.

Apar Gupta, the founding director of digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation, emphasized the bill’s lack of safeguard architecture against surveillance and the department of telecommunications’ refusal to make a centralized repository of internet shutdowns, reducing transparency.

Access Now, a digital rights organization, called for the bill’s withdrawal and the creation of a new draft through consultation, stating that the bill enhances the government’s colonial-era powers to intercept communications and shut down the internet, undermining privacy.

The bill now awaits the Indian President’s approval to become an official act. With diverse implications and concerns around privacy and regulation, the bill will likely continue to be a topic of debate and discussion in the coming months.


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