Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is hoping to finalise by May-end whether to bring under over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp, Netflix and Skype under the regulatory regime.
TRAI chairman R S Sharma told Press Trust of India that they have studied the European Electronic Communications Code and along with other regulatory frameworks around the world while articulating their opinion on the subject.
“We have studied the European Union’s model…they have come up with Electronic Communications Code. We have also studied global best practices and we will keep those in mind,” Sharma said.
The telecom regulator is reportedly keeping an “open mind” on the issue.
Telecom companies have been complaining that while they have to comply with a regulatory regime, OTT players like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook are currently allowed to operate relatively freely. This creates an imbalanced playing field, telcos have complained.
To gain a wider perspective about the issue, TRAI released a consultation paper on ‘Regulatory Framework for Over The Top (OTT) Communication Services’ in November 2018 which was open for public comments till December 24, 2018.
The commission will have an open house discussion on the issues around OTT in Bengaluru on April 24 and will hold a similar discussion in Delhi next month.
Telcos Vs OTTs: Why The Discontent?
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), India’s largest lobby group of telcos wrote a letter to TRAI in January requesting that OTT players be brought under the regulatory regime since they provide the same services such as calling, messaging and content without bearing the costs of compliance.
Countering COAI’s complaints, major lobby groups of internet companies such as the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Broadband India Forum and the Asia Internet Coalition opposed the suggestions, saying that services of telecom and OTT players cannot be compared.
IAMAI said that “Identifying Rich Interaction Applications (RIAs) as comparable to telecom services is highly reductionist and unjustified. Moreover, digital applications are not available to those telecom subscribers who do not have access to the Internet”
“In seeking to create a “level playing field” between OTT providers, and legacy media and network providers, introducing rigid frameworks could stymie innovation and competition or cause irreversible consumer harms,” Asia Internet Coalition said, which represents companies such as AirBnB and Facebook, Alibaba, Twitter and Times Internet.