Representing India's three major private telecom companies—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea—COAI sent a letter to the telecom secretary, Neeraj Mittal, dated October 31, 2023
The industry association has accused global giants like Microsoft and Amazon of "seemingly evading the legal telecom route" by utilising WhatsApp and other unregulated platforms for sending business messages to customers
This practice is allegedly resulting in an annual revenue loss of approximately INR 3,000 crores for both the government and the service providers.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has appealed to the government to classify platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram as illegitimate channels for business communication. This pertains to the use of time-sensitive one-time authentication codes required for device access and transaction validation.
Representing India’s three major private telecom companies — Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea — COAI sent a letter to the telecom secretary, Neeraj Mittal, dated October 31, as reported by ET.
The industry association has accused global giants like Microsoft and Amazon of “seemingly evading the legal telecom route” by utilising WhatsApp and other unregulated platforms for sending business messages to customers. This practice is allegedly resulting in an annual revenue loss of approximately INR 3,000 Cr for both the government and the service providers.
In India, domestic business communications are charged INR 0.13 per SMS, while international messages cost around INR 4-4.5 each. Before Reliance Jio’s entry into the telecom sector in 2016, voice calls and messaging were significant revenue sources for telecom companies. Over-the-top (OTT) communication apps now leverage telcos’ internet services to offer free calling and messaging, which were previously fee-based services.
According to the telecom industry association, this situation represents a significant violation of licensing and security regulations and poses substantial risks to national security and financial fraud.
Telecom operators claim that tech companies are exploiting unlicensed channels to evade international enterprise messaging charges.
COAI also pointed out that SMS communication is regulated by the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation (TCCCPR) of 2018, which mandates consumer consent for businesses to send messages to customers. However, as OTT platforms operate outside the regulatory framework, the TCCCPR guidelines do not apply to them, making it easier for them to send unsolicited messages through platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram.
“If this practice is not curbed, it may encourage the use of unmonitored routes, posing a security threat to the nation,” COAI added.
In a separate letter to the telecom minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, telecom companies have requested the regulation of communication apps by expanding the scope of telecommunication services in the upcoming telecom bill.
App developers have previously resisted attempts to subject them to telecom regulations, arguing that they are already covered under the IT Act and that further regulation would stifle innovation.
In July of this year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a consultation paper on regulating over-the-top (OTT) communication apps in the country. The paper broadly addressed two key aspects: establishing a regulatory framework for OTT communication apps and examining issues related to selective bans on such apps. TRAI sought feedback from stakeholders on the consultation paper until August 18.
Additionally, the government has been concerned about the widespread use of encryption in most OTT apps, making it challenging for authorities to trace end-users in criminal cases and national security threats. The government has also been working to enforce compliance with its directives on these platforms.