The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is seeking to regulate over-the-top (OTT) communication apps, such as Whatsapp and Signal, and has sent a reference to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to commence the consultation process.

These proceedings are a part of wider deliberations undertaken by the DoT, which seeks to regulate these apps to prevent the misuse of this technology in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

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DoT will also start consultation with the Ministry of Electronics and IT, as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, on this issue soon.

Previous regulation effort

This is not the first time that a move to regulate apps has been contemplated by the government. In November 2018, TRAI issued a consultation paper titled, “Regulatory Framework for OTT Communication Services.” After comments from all stakeholders, the regulator, in September 2020, ruled out the need to regulate such apps but had said it would review the stance periodically.

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TRAI concluded that any regulatory prescription in haste may leave an adverse impact on the industry. Therefore, market forces may be allowed to respond to the situation, without prescribing any regulatory intervention. TRAI added a caveat that the developments shall be monitored and intervention, as felt necessary, shall be done at appropriate time.

Industry associations vs telcos

Industry associations, such as the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Nasscom and the US-India Business Council, among others, had opposed any kind of regulatory framework for OTTs during TRAI’s 2018 consultation process.

Telecom operators, on the other hand, will welcome DoT’s move to regulate these apps as they have long demanded that OTT apps providing the same communication services as operators should be subject to similar licensing and regulatory provisions as telcos.