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Saturday, June 24, 2017
Centre plans to reinforce IT law to curb cyber crimes, says Ravi Shankar Prasad

Centre plans to reinforce IT law to curb cyber crimes, says Ravi Shankar PrasadUnion minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said the Centre was mulling "further reinforcement" in the IT law to prevent cyber crimes including, posting and sharing of videos containing sexually abusive material.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said the Centre was mulling “further reinforcement” in the IT law to prevent cyber crimes including, posting and sharing of videos containing sexually abusive material. The law and IT minister said he has given directions to top officials in the IT ministry to work on the matter to check such cyber crimes. “I have directed the IT secretary in particular to revisit the IT law if there is a need of further reinforcement on this issue…

I have already given the instruction,” the minister told reporters here when asked about the increasing incidents of such crimes in the country’s cyber space. In response to a query on social networking giant Facebook’s controversy-ridden Free Basics programme in India, Prasad said he was opposed to programme in the present form. “My serious problem of Free Basics is you get free only when you enter through my gate… To get free service you have to enter through Facebook gate… That is plainly not acceptable,” he said.

“India is too big a country… India is too open a country and our digital ecosystem today is the top of the world. We have talked of digital access without hindrance. In Parliament, I have spoken when I was the communications minister. I said no and we don’t propose to permit Free Basics in the present form at all,” Prasad said. (Source: Financial Express)

PMO to take a call on imposing customs duty on mobile phones

PMO to take a call on imposing customs duty on mobile phonesThe Prime Minister’s Office will take a final call on imposition of import duties on mobile phones after weighing the pros and cons of taking such a decision, a government official has said. While, on one hand, levying of basic customs duties on mobile phones could ensure a competitive edge for domestic manufacturing as imports will remain more expensive in the goods & services tax (GST) regime, it could also spell trouble at the World Trade Organisation, where several countries are already accusing India of trying to breach the global Information Technology Agreement (ITA-1).

Domestic push
“The PMO has been presented with all possible scenarios and its call will be final on the matter,” a Commerce Ministry official told BusinessLine. The Department of Telecommunication made a case for imposition of basic customs duty on imported mobile phones to maintain the duty differential being enjoyed by domestic manufacturers (a 12.5 per cent countervailing duty is applicable on imported mobile phones compared with a 1 per cent excise duty for those made in India), which will disappear once the GST regime is implemented in July.

India’s justification
What is creating trouble is the fact that India has committed at the WTO under the ITA-1 pact not to impose customs duty on mobile phones. The DoT’s argument, backed by that of the Attorney General, is that mobile phones have evolved into smart gadgets carrying out multiple functions since the ITA was signed in 1996 and the new instruments are not covered under the pact.
“But there are two sides to the argument.

“Mobile phone exporting countries such as Japan, South Korea, the US and the EU have trashed India’s justification and said that no matter however evolved, mobile phones remain mobile phones, and hence, imposition of customs duty on them would be in breach of the ITA,” the official said.

Verdict soon
The PMO is aware of the situation and the implications of taking a decision either way, the official said, adding that it will come up with its verdict soon. There wouldn’t be a problem in imposing basic customs duty if the PMO decides it is in national interest even if it is challenged at the WTO. “It takes at least three years for a case to be fought, a verdict given and then implemented. The domestic industry would have moved a long away ahead in that time period,” the official said.

Smart or not
DoT argues that mobiles have evolved into smart gadgets that are not covered under WTO’s IT Agreement of 1996.
Mobiles remain mobiles, insist exporting countries. (Source: The Hindu Businessline)

Sacked IT employees approaching unions for support

Sacked IT employees approaching unions for supportInformation technology professionals, who claim they were coerced into resigning by employers looking to trim headcount in the midst of an industry slowdown, are flocking to unions in search of support for their demand for compensation. These retrenched employees — of both local and multinational IT companies — claim their former employers pressured them to hand in resignations instead of firing them, thereby saving on the expense of severance pay. Last week, a Bengaluru-based technology professional employed by a multinational IT services company received a phone call from the human resource executive asking her to quit voluntarily.

“I was given two days’ time to resign and with no compensation. I have a child and a home loan to pay, I need a severance to keep me going until I find my next job at least,” she said. “I did not join the company over one phone call, right? Why should I accept resignation over a call?” the employee with a decade of industry experience told ET. She reached out to Bengaluru-based IT/ITes Employee Centre (ITEC), which describes itself as a “welfare association for IT employees”.

The IT professional is one of nearly half a dozen mid-career professionals with over ten years of experience, interviewed by ET for this story, who claim they were asked to leave without being paid compensation by companies. Technology industry expert Siddharth Pai, however, didn’t think that the companies were being unfair to the employees.

“Companies would not have paid as much as the employees expected. But, contractually they would have met all the obligations. I don't think it is a fair allegation to make,” said Pai, founding partner of 3one4 Capital.

India’s $150-billion outsourcing industry is battling slowdown caused by rising automation in the industry and growing threat of protectionism in its biggest market – the United States.

In the past month, as companies trim workforce during the annual appraisal, a slew of unions representing employees claim they are seeing a sharp hike in distress calls.

“We get so many calls every day about companies forcing employees to resign. We got close to 200 phone calls in the last 3 weeks in our helpline number,” said an ITEC spokesperson. “Publicly companies are denying any retrenchment, but they are forcing people to resign on the other side,” he added.

One employee, who works for a US-based IT services giant, claimed the company he worked for axed several employees during appraisals last month. “In the new appraisal process, the total number of buckets the employees fall under was increased from 3 to 5. This way many are put in the final bucket and are asked to leave without any severance,” the person said.

Union representatives in turn are turning to state governments for help in allaying the concerns of affected employees and to help them receive their due.

Employee Unions like Chennaiheadquartered Forum for IT Employees (FITE) and IT-wing of National Democratic Labour Front (NDLF) say they are seeing more IT employees reaching out to them seeking legal counsel.

“More than 500 people have approached us alleging unfair termination of their job in the last two months. As of now, we raised the issue with the labour commission of Telangana and Hyderabad urging the state to intervene in ‘illegal termination’ of employees,” said Vinodh AJ, general secretary of FITE.

NDLF-IT says it has received about over 100 complaints while ITEC says it is helping employees lodge complaints with the labour department of Bengaluru.

“We already had a meeting with the Additional Labour Commissioner who confirmed that there was no request from any IT companies for official layoffs,” said the ITEC’s spokesperson. “We are now meeting Karnataka IT minister Priyank Kharge and labour minister Santhosh Lad for government intervention in this matter,” he added.

LAW AMBIGUOUS
Labour advocate Madhu Damodaran said the law on unionisation in the IT industry in Karnataka is somewhat ambiguous. “Under the trade union act, both the employers and the employees of companies can form a union. And no IT company can be seen exempt,” he said.

“However, as per exemptions provided under the Industrial Establishment Act (standing orders), they can argue that IT employees are not ‘workmen.’

As growth slows, fresh hiring in technology companies has cooled down and companies have started laying off employees. ET recently reported Wipro is letting go of at least 600 employees and Infosys, more than 1,000. IT companies, though, have denied that they are doing anything unusual this year.

ET reached out to half a dozen IT services companies based in Bengaluru and US about the alleged “unfair practices” but most of them refused to comment. (Source: Times of India)

Telecom regulator to 'look into' retention offers of Airtel, Idea, Vodafone

Telecom regulator to 'look into' retention offers of Airtel, Idea, VodafoneTrai Chairman RS Sharma asserted that all offerings by operators need to be transparent, non-discriminatory and filed with the regulator but refused to be drawn into the specifics.
Telecom regulator Trai will "look into" the complaints about operators doling out customised retention offers to influence subscribers who want to shift to a rival network. Trai Chairman RS Sharma asserted that all offerings by operators need to be transparent, non-discriminatory and filed with the regulator but refused to be drawn into the specifics.

"If these complaints have come, we will certainly look into them. Because the tariff has to satisfy the criteria of being transparent and being non-discriminatory. So these principles have to be followed...we will look into that," Sharma told . He was responding to a query about Trai views on newcomer Reliance Jio's recent allegation that incumbent operators are lining-up customised retention offers for subscribers wanting to shifting out of their network. In a letter to Trai last month, Jio had termed such methods as being "unfair and deceptive", and claimed that the offers were being presented to customers "surreptitiously" on one-to-one basis and not available to the general public.

Nor are the companies openly publicising such offers on their website as is stipulated, Jio charged, demanding that "strongest action" against the three operators - Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular -- for what it termed as a gross violation of Trai's norms. "I remember having discussions in Trai in one of the meetings that such complaints have come. But I have not seen the specific complaints," Sharma said.

While it may be natural for operators to play up offerings and the strength of their networks to the departing customers, telcos cannot offer plans that they do not file with Trai, he said."If someone tries to leave, people will tell him ours is the best network, that is part of the business. (But) I don't think any operator should be giving a plan which is not given to Trai...or is not a part of their standard set of plans," he said. As per the norms, while tariffs are under forbearance, every plan has to be filed with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) within 7 working days from its launch. (Source: Economic Times)

Infosys, TCS, Cognizant violating H-1B visa norms: US official

Infosys, TCS, Cognizant violating H-1B visa norms: US officialThe US has complained that Indian blue chip IT firms Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Cognizant unfairly get the lion's share of H-1Bvisas by putting extra tickets into the lottery system, which the Trump administration wants to replace with a 'merit-based' immigration policy. A Trump administration official said at a White House briefing last week that a small number of giant outsourcing firms flood the system with applications, which increases their chances of success in the lottery draw.

"You may know their names well, but like the top recipients of the H-1B visa are companies like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant—they will apply for a very large number of visas, more than they get, by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle, if you will, and then they'll get the lion's share of visas," the senior official said, according to a transcript of the briefing posted on the White House website.

Asked why Indian companies were singled out for mention, he responded that TCS, Infosys and Cognizant were the top three recipients of H-1B visas. "And those three... have an average wage for H-1B visas between $60,000 and $65,000 (a year). By contrast, the median Silicon Valley software engineer's wage is probably around $150,000," the official said.

While TCS and Cognizant did not offer a comment, Infosys said, "We have provided a statement on the H-1B matter earlier. At this point we have nothing additional to add." Infosys's earlier statement on H-1B was: "We are deeply committed to helping US clients leverage technology to transform their businesses, empower their employees in new ways, and become even more competitive. To do this, we continue to invest in the local communities in which we operate, including hiring local American top talent, bringing education and training to our clients to shrink the skills gap in the US, and working with policy-makers to foster innovation within states and across the country. It's our endeavour to help clients leverage the best US talent together with the best global talent, to drive economic growth in the US, ensure the US continues to be at the forefront of innovation, and bring skills and education in the new technologies that will transform our world." The US official said H-1B visas were awarded through random lottery with about 80% of H-1B workers being paid less than the median wage in their fields. "Only about 5% to 6%, depending on the year, of H-1B workers command the highest wage tier recognised by the department of labour, there being four wage tiers. And the highest wage tier, for instance, in 2015, was only 5% of H1B workers," he said. He said workers are often brought in well below market rates to replace American workers, again, sort of violating the principle of the programme, which is supposed to be a means for bringing in skilled labour. "Instead, you're bringing in a lot of times workers who are actually less skilled and lower paid than the workers that they're replacing," he said. (Source: Times of India)

RCom, Aircel seek shareholders’ approval as merger hits last lap

RCom, Aircel seek shareholders’ approval as merger hits last lapThe mega merger between Reliance Communications (RCom) and Aircel to create the country’s third-largest operator is entering the final phase, with both companies seeking shareholder approval in the coming days.

Aircel will hold its shareholders’ meeting on April 22, while that of RCom will be on April 24. The meetings have been convened following a direction by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), according to the notices posted on the companies’ websites. Following the shareholder meetings, NCLT will hear the merger application filed by the companies on April 24 itself. Shareholder and NCLT approvals are the statutory requirements for the merger.

In March, the companies received Competition Commission of India’s approvals for the merger, prior to which approvals the companies had got permission from capital markets regulator SEBI, and the BSE and NSE.

The merger was announced in September 2016, under which RCom and Aircel’s Malaysia-based promoters Maxis Communications Bhd will hold 50 per cent each in a newly-created venture, with equal representation on the board.
Helping pare debt

The merger would help both players pare debt by ₹14,000 crore each, which will be transferred to the new entity. At present, RCom’s debt stands at ₹42,000 crore, while that of Aircel is at about ₹18,500 crore. (Source:The Hindubusiness Line)

Airtel, Vodafone, Idea saw most billing complaints in Oct-Dec

Airtel, Vodafone, Idea saw most billing complaints in Oct-DecThe complaints in the case of Bharti Airtel mostly came from 2G pre-paid subscribers in Tamil Nadu (including Chennai), Kolkata, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir, where the benchmark violation ranged between 0.11 per cent and 0.12 per cent.
Users of Airtel, Vodafone and Idea mobile services filed maximum billing complaints in October-December of 2016, as per the latest report of Trai. The complaints in the case of Bharti Airtel mostly came from 2G pre-paid subscribers in Tamil Nadu (including Chennai), Kolkata, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir, where the benchmark violation ranged between 0.11 per cent and 0.12 per cent.

According to quality of service norms, the complaint level should not be more than 0.1 per cent per 100 bills issued in one quarter.
The maximum violations are found in the case of Vodafone, where 0.15 per cent and 0.13 per cent of bills were disputed by its users in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, respectively.

Vodafone is the only company during the reported quarter whose post-paid customers in the Mumbai circle also raised a number of quality issues. Complaints against Idea in the north-east telecom circle pertained to 0.13 per cent of disputed bills. As for other quality parameters, Trai found performance of Aircel below par for call drops in most telecom circles. Trai has set a penalty of up to Rs 2 lakh for poor mobile service, including call drops. The penalty kicks in for more than 2 per cent call drops in a quarter in one telecom circle.
According to the report, Aircel's 2G network crossed this limit in four circles. The call drop rate on the Aircel network was as high as 27.73 in the north-east circle. Airtel, Sistema Shyam and Reliance Communications (GSM) service also overshot the call drop level in one circle each.

During the peak hour, the rate is relaxed up to 3 per cent. Even in this category, the figure remained above this level for Aircel 2G in 11 out of the 22 telecom circles. State-owned BSNL, Tata Teleservices (CDMA) and Vodafone also failed on the 3 per cent parameter in one circle each. Telenor's performance was found below par in Bihar and UP East circle, as per the report. RCom topped the list of offenders in the deposits refund category, followed by Tata Teleservices. As per Trai rules, a telecom operator should refund 100 per cent of the claimed deposit within 60 days, but RCom, including its subsidiary, breached this norm across 20 circles in the country.
TTSL did not comply with the deposit rule in six telecom circles, according to the report. PRS ARD ADI MKJ. (Source: ET Telecom)

Delhi court to hear Vodafone's plea against Reliance Jio's free offer

Delhi court to hear Vodafone's plea against Reliance Jio's free offerOn January 30, Vodafone India moved the Delhi High Court claiming that Trai has also failed to implement the telecom department's (DoT) circulars.
Delhi High court on Monday will hear the plea filed by Vodafone India alleging that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had failed to prohibit Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd's (RJIO) "blatant violation" of tariff orders, directions and regulations by permitting it to continue with its free offers.

On January 30, Vodafone India moved the Delhi High Court claiming that Trai has also failed to implement the telecom department's (DoT) circulars.

Earlier, Bharti Airtel and Idea moved the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) alleging that the regulator has been a mute spectator to the gross violations committed by Reliance Jio. (Source: ETtelecom)

Direct BSNL to withdraw app-based calling service: COAI asks TRAI

Direct BSNL to withdraw app-based calling service: COAI asks TRAIBSNL's limited fixed mobile telephony service is an app-based calling service that virtually turns mobiles into cordless phone working in sync with landlines to make and receive calls within home premises.
Mobile phone companies have sought the sector regulator’s immediate intervention to direct state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) to stop its app-based limited fixed mobile telephony (LFMT) service, which they claim flouts licence norms, runs afoul of the national numbering plan and also evades interconnect charges.

State-run BSNL’s app-based limited FMT service enables customers to literally convert their smartphones into cordless phones to make and receive cheaper landline calls from indoors, bypassing mobile networks and interconnection charges. Customers opting for the service merely need to download an app on to their smartphones using a BSNL broadband connection. “BSNL’s new app-based LMFT service is disguised as a landline service, and is in breach of the national numbering plan and licence conditions,” the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said in letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

The COAI represents India’s three-largest telecom companies, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular among others. Newest 4G operator Reliance Jio Infocomm is also a member of the industry association, but COAI said Jio held a divergent view on the matter.

COAI’s director general Rajan Mathews, in his letter to the sector regulator, said BSNL’s new limited fixed mobile service use the caller-line identification (CLI) of landlines for making calls from mobiles, and in turn, evade interconnect charges. This is since no termination charges are applicable for calls between landlines under Trai’s prevailing Interconnection Usage Charges (IUC) regulation.

Mathews warned that if BSNL’s service is permitted by the regulator, “other operators with a landline number series might also start using their methodology to skirting interconnect charges, which would lead to major revenue implications for mobile operators”.

“Existing interconnection agreements between COAI’s member operators and BSNL do not permit such calls, and does not permit internet telephony services either,” Mathews wrote in his letter to the sector regulator, a copy of which was reviewed by ET.

Earlier this month, BSNL had said its latest app-based limited FMT calling service was “different” from its previous FMT service, which it had been forced to put on hold following stiff opposition from mobile phone companies.

Explaining the rationale behind the new app-based calling service, BSNL chairman Anupam Shrivastava had recently said that since landline subscribers found it inconvenient to fetch contact details from mobiles and then dial from a fixed line, the new app-based service would turn a mobile handset into a cordless device within a user's home premises, allowing him or her to avail of BSNL’s attractive landline tariffs.

However, COAI’s Mathews countered by saying that “BSNL’s new limited FMT service may have now be restricted to indoor home use, but in-principle, it is the same version of the earlier service, in that, its essence and functionality was fundamentally the same of connecting to BSNL’s landlines through mobiles using an app”. (Source: ETtelecom)

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