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Navigating the Regulatory Maze: The Role of Compliance Technology in Telecommunications

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By Sandeep Agrawal, Director and Co-founder at Teamlease Regtech

The Indian telecommunications sector has seen considerable progress since its inception. Following liberalisation, the sector has now become the second-largest communications market globally. Present-day telecommunication services are an indispensable infrastructure component, enabling the government, economy, and society. The sector now has over 800 million people connected to low-cost, high-speed internet and over one billion subscribers. Despite enduring a period of consistent growth, the sector is burdened by an intricate regulatory framework.

A telecom company that operates in multiple states is generally responsible for more than 1,200 compliance obligations. These obligations are mandated by a minimum of ninety statutes, rules, and regulations. These include, but are not limited to, the Telecommunication Levy Act, 2011, the Quality of Service of Broadband Service Regulations, 2006, the Policy Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Television Channels, the International Telecommunication Access to Essential Facilities at Cable Landing Stations Regulations, 2007, the Remote Access Guidelines of 2013, and the Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Ordinance, 1994.

In order to meet the compliance requirements, organisations are obligated to furnish performance monitoring reports of consumer complaints against unsolicited commercial communications (UCCs), quarterly customer service reports, and complaint records. Organisations that manage an uplinking hub are obligated to secure a security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and adhere to all regulations established by the MHA. Furthermore, the renewal application for permission must be submitted a minimum of six months prior to its expiration. Additionally, prior authorisation from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) is required for the utilisation of uplinking facilities. DTH (direct-to-home) service providers are obligated to remit licence fees on a quarterly basis in addition to an annual fee. Vendor licences must be prominently displayed in each location of the business. Beyond SACFA clearance, DTH operators are obligated to provide the licensor with a report detailing their efforts to establish and install the uplink earth station within a period of 12 months.

Additionally, they must provide comprehensive technical and operational information regarding the channels to be uplinked. The operator must also establish a dedicated grievance redressal team for VAS (value-added services) complaints. The operator must upload the Know Your Customer (KYC) documents to the database within one month of the SIM card activation for each new customer onboarding. It is mandatory for telecommunications service providers to uphold documentation of all M2M (Machine-to-Machine SIM cards). Furthermore, they are responsible for ensuring that all communications between the licencing authority and the licensee remain private.

Service providers are legally obligated to provide prepaid and postpaid users with a 30-day prior notice before terminating their tariff plans. In the case of customers transitioning to an alternative service provider, it is imperative that the operator establishes appropriate safeguards to prevent the interception of subscriber data while the port is active. Operators are additionally obligated to guarantee that user connections satisfy the quality of service standard (>=95%). Refunded in full, customer deposits are due sixty days after the date of closure. Service restoration must occur within three days of a fault or repair, with a benchmark for restoration within the following business day exceeding 90% on average.

In addition, it is mandatory for telecom licensees to establish the infrastructure that enables them to consistently monitor their networks for unauthorised access, malicious activities, and fraudulent activities and to notify the licencing authorities and CERT-In of any findings promptly. It is mandatory for them to perform yearly security audits of the network or have a third-party agency conduct the audits. Additionally, they are required to maintain operation and maintenance command logs for a duration of twelve months. The responsibility of ensuring that a majority of board members are Indian citizens should rest with the corporation.

A telecom operator must satisfy a multitude of obligations and requirements, some of which are listed above. These intricacies escalate exponentially as the scale and magnitude of operations expand, owing to the enormous quantity of data and the millions of customers these enterprises serve. Furthermore, these intricacies are influenced by the perpetually evolving regulatory and policy environment. TRAI has issued 116 regulatory updates for the industry over the past year. The businesses’ ad hoc, paper-based, and human-reliant processes become increasingly inadequate as they expand. It is difficult for compliance teams to monitor ongoing, pending, and upcoming obligations.

Telecom organisations interact directly with petabytes and exabytes of sensitive user data on a daily basis. As such, rigorous and comprehensive regulation of the industry is critical. The Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 (DPDP Act), which was recently enacted, delineates the rights, responsibilities, and responsibilities of every party involved. Every day, telecom service providers gain access to vast quantities of information. They amass and process substantial quantities of personal data throughout the course of a customer relationship. This includes payment information, names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses of contacts, call and browsing histories, and additional preferences.

Moreover, collaborations and partnerships with third-party service providers constitute a fundamental component of their business framework. In order to supervise operations and manage their networks, IT systems, distribution networks, customer service, collections, and more, they rely on a multitude of partners and vendors. The DPDP Act implements novel compliance obligations that fortify user data’s confidentiality and integrity while fostering greater openness within the sector. In addition to adopting robust cybersecurity practices, conducting routine privacy audits, appointing a Data Protection Officer, and managing consent, businesses must disclose data usage transparency, report breaches, and conduct data impact assessments.

By leveraging regulatory technology, digital solutions can assist these businesses in establishing a timely, accountable, and transparent compliance ecosystem. By utilising compliance management processes based on technology, organisations can remain informed about regulatory updates and requirements that TRAI and other regulatory bodies publish. Establishing a compliance culture driven by technology can greatly assist an organisation in maintaining legal compliance. Compliance solutions that are intelligent and automated enhance visibility and control over compliance functions. They provide functionalities that inform and anticipate senior management.

These solutions employ tracking and management mechanisms to avert lapses, delays, and defaults. Businesses must adopt new technological platforms in order to take advantage of their customisable checklists, integrated databases, and real-time regulatory updates. They ensure the provision of pertinent updates within a 24-hour timeframe by monitoring regulatory modifications on tens of thousands of government websites. This enables employers to address critical updates promptly.

Additionally, telecom service providers’ compliance programmes are streamlined by these platforms. It incorporates digital, tamper-proof, and verified copies of all paper documents. One location is the central digital document repository, where compliance paperwork can be stored, managed, and accessed. Due to the time, energy, and resources saved by digitally integrated document management, employers can now concentrate on higher-priority matters. As regulations expand to encompass all facets of an organisation, compliance is no longer the exclusive domain of the compliance department. Roles and responsibilities in compliance must be specified in KMPs for every level and department. For compliance management, enforcement of internal processes for interdepartmental and interlevel coordination is vital. Incorporating corrective interventions, risk assessments, and period assessments into the compliance agenda is essential.

The telecommunications sector will continue to expand as we gain access to an increasing number of technological innovations and breakthroughs. The foundation of the digital economy is a robust information technology infrastructure. Therefore, it is imperative to ascertain that telecommunications service providers adhere to the regulatory framework and are in accordance with the regulators’ objectives. By utilising RegTech, businesses can effectively navigate the intricate regulatory landscape and gain the confidence of their investors, customers, and shareholders through compliance.

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