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Sunday, March 26, 2023
Guidelines for influencer advertising on digital platforms to be out by next month

ASCI says influencers must ensure display of disclosure labels prominently

India’s influencer market is estimated to be $75-$150 million a year

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani

New Delhi, February 21Soon, social media influencers will be required to make adequate disclosures regarding promotional content to ensure transparency regarding their paid partnerships with brands.

At a time when brands are increasingly turning to social media influencers to promote their products, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is releasing draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital platforms and expects to finalise them by March-end, after a public consultation.

The proposed draft guidelines state that influencers should ensure “disclosure labels to highlight advertising content” and these should be upfront, prominent and clearly visible on all devices. Disclosure labels should be visible within the first two lines of any given platform, it added. “Advertisements must be obviously distinguishable by the average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content, to prevent the audience from being confused between the two. Therefore, a disclosure label must be added from the list of approved labels,” the proposed guidelines state.

Approved labels
Approved disclosure labels by ASCI include #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored or #partnership. According to estimates by digital marketing agency AdLift, the size of India’s influencer market is estimated to be $75-$150 million a year.

Influencers will also need to ensure filters are not used to exaggerate the claims of brands’ social media ads. Once these guidelines are implemented, influencers will also need to do due-diligence to ensure that any technical or performance claims made by brands are well-substantiated.

Subhash Kamath, Chairman, ASCI said, “In the digital world, the lines between content and advertising have increasingly started to blur. It is extremely important for consumers to be able to distinguish between regular posts and promotional content. We believe these guidelines will not only help consumers to identify promotional content but also guide social media influencers to become more responsible when promoting brands.”

Stating that these draft guidelines were formulated in collaboration with influencers, he pointed out that ASCI tied up with BigBang.Social, which handles a large network of social media influencers. “We look forward to feedback, which would help us make the digital space more responsible for all,” he said.

Dos and Don’ts
The draft guidelines have also proposed the manner or the required time period for the visibility of disclosure labels’ depending on the format such as a textual post, length of the videos, live-streams, audio posts or disappearing videos. For instance, if the advertisements are only a picture post (such as Instagram stories or Snapchat) or the promotional video is not accompanied by a text post, the disclosure label must be superimposed over the picture or video.

Depending on the length of the video, disclosure labels will need to be displayed for varying time periods. For instance, for videos that are two minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand, or its features are mentioned.

It has also outlined the manner in which disclosure labels should be used across social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube among others. Blanket disclosures in a profile or the bio section of the social media influencers will not be considered adequate and must be added to each of the sponsored posts in English or in the language of the ad, the draft guidelines added. “It is recommended that the contractual agreement between advertiser and influencer carries clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters as well as due diligence,” it added. (Source: The Hindu Businessline)

No policy changes till May, WhatsApp says will clear the doubts

Xiaomi’s Mi 11 will not ship with a charger inside box, CEO Lei Jun confirms The updated policy terms were first announced via an in-app notification to users by WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, asking them to agree to the new terms by February 8 or lose access to their accounts.

Instant messaging platform WhatsApp announced late on Friday that it was delaying the implementation of its recent privacy policy changes, which triggered a global backlash, to May 15, instead of the scheduled February 8.

The updated policy terms were first announced via an in-app notification to users by WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, asking them to agree to the new terms by February 8 or lose access to their accounts. As both users and privacy activists raised the alarm, WhatsApp clarified that the changes were necessary to help businesses through WhatsApp Business, which was launched by the company in 2018 to facilitate communication between businesses and customers.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” WhatsApp said in a blog update on Friday. (Source: The Indian Express)

Govt signals social media for wage communication amid privacy row

Xiaomi’s Mi 11 will not ship with a charger inside box, CEO Lei Jun confirms Experts fear the move increases risk of data theft and breaches employee-employer confidentiality pact

The Union labour ministry seems keen to institutionalize social media and proposes to use “WhatsApp and other social media" platforms for salary communication when the new labour codes are implemented in a couple of months.

The move comes amid growing concerns over data privacy and raises the fear that it may facilitate access to financial and social security details of workers by social media platforms, labour economists and cyber security experts said.

It heightens concerns over data theft and financial profiling and increases the risk of violation of the employee-employer payment confidentiality system and financial fraud even at the lower rung of the working class, cyber security experts said.

“All payment, including wages, to the workers shall be made by crediting in the bank account of the worker on electronic mode or digital form. Intimation to the payment made to a worker shall be sent to him through short messaging service (SMS) or e-mail or social media communication such as WhatsApp or by issuing a slip," the Union labour ministry has proposed in its draft standing orders for the service sector, manufacturing sector, and mining sector.

The draft orders have been put in the public domain for comments and will be finalized and made part of the Industrial Relation (IR) Code Act after a month.

The draft standing orders have not been well thought through and there are contradictions in different clauses and it seems an attempt at institutionalization of social media in salary communication, said K.R. Shyam Sundar, a labour economist and professor at XLRI, Jamshedpur. “What the draft standing orders convey is that under law, salary information and salary statements can be communicated through WhatsApp and social media platforms. What the draft fails to convey is how this will provide financial privacy to employees and employers. This will lead to a clear breach of confidentiality agreement in employee and employer relations. This is almost rewriting of confidentiality requirements," he added.

“Social media by its function and definition is largely informal. How can that be made part of salary communication, which is a formal, professional, and commercial requirement in an employee-employers relationship? It will have a multiple and cascading impact and should be scrapped immediately," he argued.

Cyber security expert Ritesh Bhatia concurred. “It will lead to financial profiling and financial surveillance," Bhatia said. “Someone may argue that with Aadhhar in place, privacy is already compromised but remember that the Unique Identification Authority of India and Aadhaar numbers are a government of India organization and product. That’s a big solace. You can access some information at least via right to information provisions and take a wrongdoer to court. However, social media platforms are private entities and are not governed by local or domestic laws," Bhatia explained.

Salary communication can be anything like a message on salary credit, corpus in salary account or a salary slip, he said.

An employee-employer relationship is a commercial relationship and any move to shift that to social media platforms partially or fully, will have negative personal, professional, and financial consequences, Bhatia said.

“Take the example of new WhatsApp rules. These say commercial information can be shared with Facebook, its sister organization. The last thing I would like to see is my salary slip or wage information on Facebook or other social media platforms," he said. (Source: Mint)

Tax Google, Facebook as telecom companies? Spain considering new law

HealthifyMe Under the proposed rules internet companies such as Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc, would have to disclose their sales from messaging services in the country

Spain will seek to tax all companies that operate telecommunications services, such as calls and instant messaging, according to Telecommunications Secretary Roberto Sanchez.

Under a new law proposed by the government, "all operators who provide telecommunication services without having to provide phone numbers, such as WhatsApp" and Telegram would have to register as telecommunications operators and would be taxed based on revenue, Sanchez said in a press conference. Currently, only phone operators that can provide phone numbers need to sign up as telecom operators, he said.

Under the proposed rules, which would require parliamentary approval, internet companies such as Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc., the owner of WhatsApp, would have to disclose their sales from messaging services in the country, he said.

For a tech giant like Facebook, sales are largely driven by advertising. Given WhatsApp generates little revenue for the company, the impact in the short-term would be small if the law were to pass, said Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners.

Over the long term, messaging services will look to integrate into e-commerce platforms, creating more opportunities for revenue, he added.

In the past, there have been initiatives to regulate and tax internet services, such as Facebook and Google, like telecom providers. These efforts are fair to some extent because internet-based messaging has mostly replaced traditional texting from phone companies in most markets, according to industry consultant Chetan Sharma.

“But the expectations of delivery, especially for emergency services, is just not there and the burden is primarily on the operators,” he added. Companies such as Google and Facebook “obviously want free rein as any form of regulation makes them accountable which could lead to fines in case of non-compliance.” (Source: Business Standard)

Telcos Unite To Block Trai Proposals To Curb International Roaming Bill Shock

Sony India Feels the Heat from Chinese Cos, Cuts Over 120 JobsSay telecom operators must be left to decide how they want to provide better services. In a rare show of unity, telecom operators including Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio have opposed a move by the telecom regulator to bring in more measures to reduce bill shock while travelling overseas.

For the past many years, mobile users have been complaining about receiving higher-than-expected bills on international roaming services. Most of these complaints are primarily due to lack of awareness on the part of users. While mobile operators have introduced a number of measures to make users more aware of the tariffs and roaming data plans available, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had proposed additional measures to bring more transparency.

But mobile operators reckon that they do not need regulatory intervention in this matter. “The Authority should refrain from venturing into the construct of the IMR packs as this would be tantamount to interfering with the freedom to innovate and would be averse to ease of doing business tenets,” Reliance Jio said in its response to a consultation paper floated by TRAI.

Equal interest “While we appreciate the Authority’s concern on bill-shock related issues, we submit that the operators are equally concerned about the same and have equal or even more interest in keeping the high value international mobile roaming (IMR) customers happy and satisfied,”Jio added.

One of the suggestions made by TRAI is to prohibit operators from activating roaming services by default on every connection. Opposing this, Airtel said that there is no need to ban activation of roaming services on pre-paid connections.

“In the case of prepaid, the customer pre-pays the amount he/ she wishes to spend on telecom services. Every service, such as voice/ data/ SMS has a different rate for unit usage. The balance gets deducted on the basis of the actual usage incurred. The customer is immediately aware of the usage as well as the charges. Hence, all the services, including IMR services, are activated at the time of issuance of SIM,” Airtel said in its response to the consultation paper.

Airtel added that the majority of measures, proposed by TRAI, are already a part of the existing processes being followed by the operator and no additional regulatory intervention is required. “Any hard coding of the compliances in this regard may limit the operators’ ability to further improve upon the processes/ customer experience and should not be attempted if present measures are working efficiently,” it said.

Vodafone Idea added that it should be left to telecom operators to decide how they want to provide better services to customers. “We submit that regulatory mandate is not required. TRAI should consider any regulation if other measures have been given sufficient time to conclude that there is a persistent problem. There is no evidence given in the consultation paper that there is a persistent problem due to Indian telecom operators,” Vodafone Idea said.

Consumer groups back TRAI
Consumer groups have, however, backed the TRAI move. For example, the regulator has proposed to impose a cap on the bill. “Capping the amount that can be charged to the consumer in any situation, to the amount of the credit limit fixed by the telecom service providers for the subscriber or any other limit pre-agreed by the consumer at the time of activation of the IMR service, will go a long way in protecting the interest of the consumers,” said Bharat Jyoti Consumer Advocacy Group. (Source: The Hindu Businessline)

Voda Idea, Airtel may face hefty payouts if forced to cancel Huawei, ZTE deals

Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata Tele likely to pay AGR dues on Monday: DoT source The telcos said there was no message as yet from govt to reduce or stop business with Huawei and ZTE. Vodafone IdeaNSE 0.55 % and Bharti Airtel could be forced to quickly pay $600-650 million and $300 million respectively in Chinese vendor dues, if they were to cancel existing equipment contracts with Huawei and ZTE and are barred from future dealings as well with the duo, a scenario that could cause more financial pain for Vodafone Idea.

“If Vodafone Idea and Airtel are suddenly barred from buying network gear from Chinese suppliers, Huawei and ZTE may have no choice but to step up efforts to quickly recover the money the two incumbent operators owe them for gear supplies,” an industry executive, aware of the matter, said.

Telcos, though, maintained there was no communication as yet from the government to restrict or stop their business involvement with Huawei and ZTE.

Vodafone Idea’s vendor payables to Huawei and ZTE are estimated at around $450 million and $150-200 million respectively, while Airtel is reckoned to owe Huawei around $300 million for network gear purchases.

Both telcos could also face potential penalties in case of premature cancellation of existing managed services and asset maintenance (AMC) contracts with the two Chinese vendors, with international arbitration a possible option. But a top industry executive said both Airtel and Vodafone Idea could legally counter any immediate dues settlement calls, or even contest fines, by citing any potential cancellation as a force majeure event, saying they were acting on government orders on national security grounds

Last Thursday, ET had reported that the government might bar Chinese gear makers from supplying networks to state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and even restrict or prohibit private carriers from using Chinese gear after the recent border skirmish with the Chinese army in the Galwan Valley. At present, only VIL and Airtel buy network gear from Chinese suppliers in addition to European vendors, while Reliance Jio procures only from South Korean vendor Samsung.

But if Huawei and ZTE are restricted in India "it’s likely that both may push for early settlement of their dues, which could further aggravate cash flow challenges for VIL, and even cause some short-term pain for Airtel as both are still grappling with the huge AGR (adjusted gross revenue) payouts," Rajiv Sharma, research head at SBICap Securities, said. VIL’s adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues are a tad above Rs 58,000 crore, of which it has paid about Rs 7,000 crore, while Airtel’s is pegged at around Rs 43,980 crore, of which, it has cleared a little over Rs 18,000 crore.

An Airtel spokesperson dismissed such concerns saying it enjoys cordial relations with all its network gear suppliers and has enough cash to clear vendor dues, if required. The Sunil Mittal-led telco has “more than adequate cash flows to meet not just its financial commitments, but to continue to invest significantly.”

If Chinese vendors are barred from doing business in India, they are also likely to step up efforts to recover money from BSNL, which is estimated to owe ZTE Rs 1,300 crore and Huawei around Rs 100 crore.

At press time, VIL, Huawei and ZTE did not reply to ET’s queries.

India’s telcos have said geopolitical challenges must not be allowed to cloud commercial operations and decisions. They argued that geopolitical issues are the provenance of the government and such decisions are distinct and driven by specific considerations, which should be kept separate from commercial ones, the provenance of companies. (Source: The Economic Times)

No users' data compromised, investigating the matter: ZEE5

Telcos Estimate AGR Dues at Half the DoT DemandPopular content streaming service ZEE5 on Sunday refuted reports that claimed its user data has been compromised by a hacker, saying it is investigating the matter.

Popular content streaming service ZEE5 on Sunday refuted reports that claimed its user data has been compromised by a hacker, saying it is investigating the matter.

A hacker identifying himself as John Wick has claimed to have accessed the network of popular streaming service ZEE5, allegedly stealing over 150GB of user data along with the source code of the website, according to a report in cybersecurity news portal Quickcyber.

In a statement shared with IANS, Tushar Vohra, Head Technology, ZEE5 India said that they have noted some reports claiming about the data breach at ZEE5's end.

"We are investigating it further. We are also cognizant of the fact that the OTT sector has exploded in the past few years, so has hackers' interest in it. Especially post COVID-19 outbreak, data hacks have been on a steady rise. It is a shallow attempt to gain vested interests," Vohra explained.

According to the report, the hacker who appeared to be from a Korean hacking group is now planning to dump the data in the public domain for open sale.

Vohra said that all the sensitive information that can cause harm is solely rested with the top payment gateways that ZEE5 integrates and is fully secured.

"ZEE5's backend is built with state of the art technology which is robust and strong, and we will continue to invest aggressively in technology, partnering with some of the leaders in security measures including Akamai, AWS (Amazon Web Services) to safeguard users' data and to ensure it is never compromised," he added.

ZEE5 has over 150 million subscribers worldwide. (Source: ETtelecom)

AGR dues: Bharti Airtel pays ₹3,004 crore as final settlement

Pre-Bookings open for Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 UltraThe company has also deposited ₹5,000 crore as an ad-hoc payment. Bharti Airtel on Saturday said that it has paid ₹8,004 crore to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) towards the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues. However, the company said that it owes only ₹3,004 crore towards the AGR dues, as per its assessment, and the rest ₹5,000 crore are additional ad-hoc payment.

According to the DoT, Airtel has AGR dues of around ₹35,000 crore including penalty and interests, out of which it has paid ₹10,000 crore on February 17.

"The company has paid an additional amount of ₹3,004 crore towards the full and final amounts due over and above the ad-hoc amount of ₹10,000 crore paid on February 17 on behalf of the Bharti Group of Companies (Bharti Airtel, Bahrti Hexacom and Telenor India)," Airtel said in a stock filing.

"In addition to the aforesaid amounts paid basis our self-assessment, we have also deposited an additional amount of ₹5,000 crore, as an ad-hoc payment (subject to subsequent refund/ adjustment) to cover differences, if any, arising from the reconciliation exercise with the DoT," the company added. The company said it has now complied with AGR Judgment and the directions in the order of the Supreme Court dated October 24, 2019.

Apart from Airtel, Tata Teleservices (TTL) also says that the amount it has paid to DoT (₹2,197 crore) is full and final as per its self-assessment. However, as per DoT's calculations, the company's dues are pegged at ₹14,819 crore.

Similarly, Vodafone-Idea has a total due of around ₹53,000 crore, from which it has paid only ₹3,500 crore to the DoT and has been threatening to shut shop if the government does not give some relief package at the earliest.

No Government Support

However, according to government sources, no immediate relief package is expected anytime soon and no decision was also taken in the latest meeting of the Digital Communications Commission (DCC) meeting on Friday. In fact, the DCC did not discuss about AGR in the meeting, as per sources in the know and had focussed around other projects.

Recently, industry body Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), also wrote to the Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash that the operators require “urgent support from the government to address the current health of the telecom sector”.

It suggested some relaxation of AGR dues and requested the DoT to allow set-off of GST credits lying with the government. Further, after the GST set-off, the payment of balance amount of interest, penalty and interest on penalty may be allowed in a staggered manner, it said.

Meanwhile, the latest move by Airtel may pressurise Vodafone-Idea to immediately plan something towards its dues as the government is also unlikely to provide any remedy at the earliest.

The DoT is also on the verge of sending another notice to TTSL on its dues, questioning on its self-assessment as the amount it has paid till now (₹2,197 crore) is not tallying with the DoT's calculations. (Source: The Hindu Businessline)

Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata Tele likely to pay AGR dues on Monday: DoT source

Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata Tele likely to pay AGR dues on Monday: DoT source Telecom operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices are likely to make payment for adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues on Monday to avoid stringent punitive action from the Telecom Department, according to an official source.

The three companies are jointly liable to pay dues of over Rs 1 lakh crore, but they have informed the Department of Telecom (DoT) of making only partial payment, as per their representatives.
“Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices have said that they will make payments on Monday. DoT will take action after evaluating the amount paid by them,” an official source told PTI. Earlier on Friday, Bharti Airtel offered the DoT to pay Rs 10,000 crore by February 20, but a DoT official said that the department can’t grant any extension.

Vodafone Idea on Saturday said that it is assessing the amount that can be paid towards AGR dues, even as it flagged concerns over the continuation of its business.

Telecom operators are collectively liable to pay Rs 1.47 lakh crore in AGR dues as per the Supreme Court order dated October 24, 2019. The deadline to pay the amount ended on January 23, but none of the telecom operators, except Reliance Jio, paid the amount. Even state-owned BSNL and MTNL did not pay the dues.

As per the last available estimates, Airtel owes nearly Rs 35,586 crore, including licence fee and spectrum usage charges, to the government. Vodafone Idea is staring at dues worth Rs 53,000 crore, which includes up to Rs 24,729 crore of spectrum dues and another Rs 28,309 crore in licence fee. Tata Teleservices owes around Rs 13,800 crore, BSNL Rs 4,989 crore and MTNL Rs 3,122 crore.

Out of Rs 1.47 lakh crore, around Rs 1.13 lakh crore is likely to be recovered, as other companies, which are liable to pay AGR dues, have folded up their businesses. Reliance Communications and Aircel are going through insolvency proceedings.
The apex court on Friday came down heavily on the Telecom Department for not taking steps to recover statutory dues, estimated to be around Rs 1.47 lakh crore from operators. The DoT issued fifth and final notice to telecom operators on February 14 for making payment on the same day, but none of the companies paid the dues.

When asked about telecom operators having sought time to assess the amount they have to pay, the DoT official said that the court gave them three months to do so and even after missing January 23 deadline telecom operators had sufficient time to calculate their dues.

“Before the due date, DoT has sent telecom operators 4 notices and reminders to pay to avoid punitive action under license condition. After court order on modification plea, telecom players are not left with any excuse to delay the payment and the DoT can take action against them without serving any further notice,” the source said.

The apex court pulled up telecom operators and the government on non-payment of AGR dues despite its order. It has asked managing directors and directors of the company to be present in person before court on the next hearing, scheduled for March 17, in case there is violation of its order in the AGR case.

Public sector companies, that do not sell telecom services, owe DoT around Rs 2.65 lakh crore, with GAIL India alone owing around 65 per cent of the total amount. However, these PSUs have the option to approach court for a legal recourse. (Source: The Hindu Businessline)

‘PIL Against DoT Call Not to Penalise Telcos is Mala Fide’

Crying Foul After consumer group accuses Voda Idea and Airtel of wilfully disobeying SC orders, with COAI playing a part, COAI says petition is only looking to create problems

The telecom industry association has decried as “motivated” and with “mala fide interest” a petition filed in the Supreme Court challenging the telecom department’s decision not to take action against Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, after they missed the deadline to pay statutory dues to the government.

“This appears to be motivated from sources that have no interest in looking to solve a problem whose solution would benefit the industry, citizens and the country,” Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) director-general Rajan Mathews told ET.

The COAI represents all three surviving private telcos — Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm.

Airtel and Vodafone Idea have missed the January 23 deadline to pay dues to the government based on an expanded definition of adjusted gross revenue (AGR), as ordered by the top court. Vodafone Idea, Airtel and Tata Teleservices are to pay about ₹53,000 crore, ₹35,000 crore and ₹14,000 crore, respectively. Jio is the only telco to meet the deadline, paying dues of ₹195 crore last Thursday.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has, meanwhile, decided not to take “coercive” action against the telcos, as their petition in the top court seeking relaxation in payment period is expected to come up for hearing this week.

The Save Consumer Rights Foundation on Saturday filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, seeking to strike down this decision of the DoT.

It alleged that the telcos had wilfully disobeyed the court's orders and the COAI had a part to play as well. It added that Airtel and Vodafone Idea, and the DoT were in contempt of the SC’s October 24 order, which had set a three-month deadline for paying up the dues.

The COAI has termed the judgement as the last straw in the coffin of operators and the statement “clearly establishes the blackmailing tactics of these operators” for avoiding payment of their legitimate dues to the government, said the petition, seen by ET.

The foundation said it had asked the apex court to quash the directions of the DoT, recover money from the telcos and initiate proceedings against those that had not paid their dues.

The consumer body said the DoT could have encashed bank guarantees of the telcos in its possession, and subsequently could have cancelled their licences, as per rules. It added that the DoT’s action would “cause huge loss to the public exchequer, which would directly affect the economic rights of the public at large”.

COAI’s Mathews rejected allegations. “The fact that it (the petition) does not have any reference to the other companies — besides operators — that are also included in this matter, appears to show mala fide interest to create problems, rather than solving it," said Mathews.

He was referring to the fact that even non-telecom companies, such as staterun GAIL, Power Grid Corporation of India and Oil India, have been served demand notices by DoT for AGR dues. The PIL has not named these companies.

According to analysts, if lossmaking Vodafone Idea was to be forced to pay up the entire dues at one go, it would be forced to shut down. In such a scenario, Jio and Airtel will benefit most from a private sector duopoly in the market.

The Supreme Court on October 24 widened the definition of AGR to include noncore items and asked telcos to pay their dues by January 23. This meant 15 telcos had to pay additional licence fees, spectrum usage charges (SUC), interest and penalty dues of more than ₹1.47 lakh crore by January 23. Licence fees and SUC are calculated on the basis of AGR. Of the 15, Vodafone Idea, Airtel and Jio are the only surviving private telcos in India. Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel had filed review petitions which were dismissed by the top court. Then, they filed for modification of the deadline and that petition is scheduled for hearing this week.

DoT, in the interim, directed its circle offices not to take any coercive action against the telcos who had missed the payment deadline. (Source: Economic Times)

DoT examining if Jan 23 legal deadline for AGR payment applies to non-telecom PSUs

The telecom department is examining the legal applicability of January 23 deadline for payment of over Rs 2.4 lakh crore statutory dues in the case of non-telecom PSUs which were not originally party to AGR matter in the Supreme Court, according to sources.

Sources in the Department of Telecom (DoT) told PTI that while the PSUs too have been asked to make payments related to statutory liabilities (after the SC in October upheld government’s position on calculation of non-core revenue for AGR dues), the larger question is whether the January 23 deadline is legally enforceable on state-owned companies that were not direct party to the dispute.

The current view that is emerging in the DoT appears to be that the court-imposed timeline may not apply to PSUs, but the matter is being legally examined for clarity.

“Of course, the court has decided the issue of principle of what is AGR, so they (PSUs) have to pay but if they do not pay by January 23 it will not be contempt as it will be in case of the parties to the case. So PSUs have to pay and we have raised demands, but if they do not pay by January 23 it will not amount to contempt of court on their part because they were not party to the case, but they have to pay,” a source added.

Another official also said that the issue of deadline for PSUs is being examined legally. Telecom companies Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, on the other hand, are legally bound to comply with the payment timelines stipulated by the apex court.

Following the Supreme Court order of October last year, the DoT estimated that the total liability of 15 telecom companies, including penalties and interest, would be Rs 1.47 lakh crore.

These AGR liabilities arose after the Supreme Court in October last year upheld the government’s position on including revenue from non-telecommunication businesses for calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fees to the exchequer.

It has estimated another over Rs 2.4 lakh crore in liability for non-telecom companies, including state-owned gas utility GAIL India Ltd and power transmission firm PowerGrid, which had taken licences to trade broadband on optic fibre running along their pipelines and transmission lines.

The DoT has sought Rs 1.72 lakh crore in past statutory dues from state-owned gas utility GAIL India Ltd following the Supreme Court’s AGR ruling. The DoT sent a letter to GAIL last month seeking these dues on IP-1 and IP-2 licences as well as Internet Service Provider (ISP) licence, in response to which, GAIL has told DoT that it owes nothing more than what it has already paid to the government.

The assessment puts PowerGrid liability at Rs 21,000 crore, and another Rs 40,000 crore liability was assessed of Oil India Ltd. However, a demand notice was served in case of Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers & Chemicals Ltd for Rs 15,019 crore. (Source: The Hindu BusinessLine)

Twitter Warns Users Against Breach of Data

Twitter said it has fixed a vulnerability within its app for Android that could have allowed a bad actor to see non-public account information or control its users account such as sending Tweets or Direct Messages.

Twitter, in a blogpost on Saturday night, said prior to the fix, through a complicated process involving the insertion of malicious code into restricted storage areas of the Twitter app, it may have been possible for a bad actor to access information including Direct Messages, protected Tweets, location information from the app.

“We don’t have evidence that malicious code was inserted into the app or that this vulnerability was exploited, but we can’t be completely sure so we are taking extra caution,” it said. Twitter said the company has taken steps to fix this issue and are directly notifying people who could have been exposed to this vulnerability either through the Twitter app or by email with specific instructions to keep them safe.

The company declined to comment on whether Indian users were affected by the vulnerability.

Nine out of ten users in India use a smartphone that runs on Google's Android platform.

“We are not able to comment on the locations of those affected,” it said.

It asked users to update to the latest version of Twitter for Android. It added that the issue did not impact Twitter for iOS.

“We’re sorry this happened and will keep working to keep your information secure on Twitter. You can reach out to our Office of Data Protection through this form to request information regarding your account security,” it said. (Source: Economic Times)

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