The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) might soon introduce a lighter form of regulation on over-the-top (OTT) players such as Skype and WhatsApp. The regulator has scheduled its first open house session for today and the recommendations based on the meeting is expected to come out as early as May. The meeting will examine the issues surrounding the OTT players offering services that directly compete with telecom players. The reports suggest that the main point of discussion will be whether there is a regulatory imbalance between the telecom industry and OTT players.
Telecom players have been demanding a level playing field against the OTT players which they claim to have eaten into their revenues. With decline in data rates and cheaper access to mobile devices, the OTT apps have replaced standard calling and texting experience. Even cable and DTH providers are feeling the heat of OTT video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar and others. “There is a need for a light-touch regulation. A final decision will be taken after discussion in the open house. By May, TRAI should be able to come out with its views,” a senior Trai official told DNA Money on the condition of anonymity.
At this moment, TRAI is primarily examining OTT services that are similar to telecom players with offerings such as voice calls and messages. The official told the publication that not all the OTT services or players are under the radar of the regulator. TRAI classifies OTT providers into two types. First, there are OTT communication services (VoIP) providing real-time person to person telecom services using the network infrastructure of telecom operator competing with them. Second, there are OTT application services such as media services (gaming), trade and commerce services and social media that use the infrastructure of the telecom player but do not compete directly.
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TRAI had issued a consultation paper on OTT players in November last year, where it sought public opinion on whether the same rules should be applied to OTT players as are applied on telecom operators. Platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook are also facing the ire of the government over the spread of fake news and misinformation. Telecom operators complain that they need to keep investing in their networks to maintain the quality and OTT players, on the other hand, use their network and are not subject to any standards. They also don’t license or lease any of the network infrastructure hurting the telecom companies.