According to the latest version of the draft Indian Telecommunications Bill 2023, the government will come out with specific administrative rules and eligibility criterion for allowing OTT communication apps such as WhatsApp and Signal to be tested in these regulatory sandboxes.
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ET has seen a copy of the bill.
This, a senior government official said, would allow both new and existing companies to test features and receive feedback from users and the government on features that are potentially harmful or could be misused.
“One major benefit of such an environment is that MSMEs can test their apps or services with a wider audience before the ‘day zero’ launch,” another official said. “We will come out with specific rules. It is an innovative concept, but we want to make sure how much the government can be involved legally,” the official said.
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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had in June issued a paper seeking stakeholder comments on eligibility criteria for companies to be allowed to participate in a regulatory sandbox.
In its paper, Trai has said such frameworks allow and encourage the participation of startups and MSMEs while protecting consumer interests at the same time.
“The regulatory sandbox (RS) refers to live testing of new products, services, applications in a controlled environment, where regulators/licensors may (or may not) permit certain regulatory/licensing relaxations for the limited purpose of the testing,” Trai had said in its paper.
In the draft telecom bill released for public consultation in 2022, the government had proposed a regulatory sandbox for driving tech innovation. The related provisions of the bill dealt with allowing companies and startups to use the sandbox to develop and test new technologies and facilitate innovation under a flexible framework. Later, in March 2023, the telecom department (DoT) had asked Trai to come out with a paper seeking stakeholder suggestions on the issue.
ET had earlier reported that the final version of the telecom bill is likely to stipulate an ‘authorisation regime’ for OTT communication apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, instead of a licensing regime proposed in earlier versions.
The licensing regime proposed in earlier versions of the telecom bill had raised the hackles of several tech companies, which had warned that multiple regulations would be disproportionate and stall the growth of the OTT communications industry.
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