Instead of a licensing regime proposed in earlier versions, the Telecom Bill will likely stipulate an 'authorisation regime' for over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps such as Telegram, Signal, WhatsApp, and others, according to a report in The Economic Times (ET).
An official was quoted as saying that the final version of the telecom bill will also discard any authorisation or even permit system for service layer apps such as e-commerce, gaming apps, and payment gateways.
The proposed licensing regime has unsettled several tech firms, which had warned that multiple regulations will stall the growth of the OTT communications industry.
A senior government official told ET that even though the licensing regime is not feasible, OTT communication apps cannot function without any regulation. The authorisation regime will list out the necessary dos and don'ts for such apps.
Another official was quoted as saying that these rules for OTT messaging apps will be released soon after the draft of the bill is finished.
In a draft of the bill released in 2022, the Centre had proposed to include OTT messaging apps as well as internet-based communication and broadcasting services under the term "telecommunications".
That would have meant that OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and others would have had to acquire a licence to operate in India.
Another official said that the definition of telecommunications could be expanded irrespective of whether such messages have been rearranged or have undergone some form of computation. Even though OTTs are not explicitly mentioned, the proposal is to modify the definition of what constitutes a message, by including sign, signal, text, image, video, sound, etc. Therefore, he added that any platform or app that provides these will fall under the Telecom Bill's ambit indirectly.