India drafted a new telecommunication bill, calling for OTT messaging and video-calling platforms including WhatsApp, Zoom and Google Duo to obtain a telecom licence to operate in the country.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) published the draft bill, stating it forms part of a wider ambition for India to become a fully digital nation.

Under the proposed legislation, the DoT seeks to ensure telecom services including calling and messaging offered by OTT players falls under its licensing regime and subject to the same policies applied to operators.

The proposal was reportedly an upshot of long-running disputes as operators called for OTT players to be set on an equal footing, particularly with regard to high licence fees.

If approved, the legislation will enable the government to regulate internet-based communication services, including a provision to waive payments for operators with financial constraints and refund fees should a registered entity surrender its licence.

Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw stated the goal is to establish an interactive system in which “the industry’s concerns are addressed by the government and the government’s concerns are duly taken into consideration by the industry”.

However, the bill also grants the state the capacity to direct when certain messages on the OTT “shall not be transmitted” for national security reasons, while immunity is given to press messages released by government-accredited correspondents.

If approved by the Parliament, the bill will replace the Telegraph Act of 1885, which the DoT stated is now outdated.