The over-the-top (OTT) communication services that didn’t find a definition in the Telecom Bill in December, will soon have a regulatory mechanism as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) plans to do an open house discussion (OHD) in the next three months and recommendations likely after that.

“Whether they (OTT players) will be regulated or not, who will regulate them under what law, all that will be separately discussed...the regular mechanisms for OTT communications services,” Anil Kumar Lahoti, Chairman, TRAI, told reporters here on the sidelines of an event.

Consultation ongoing

Clearing the air around the fate of its consultation paper on OTT communication services in the wake of the advent of the Telecom Act, Lahoti said TRAI will proceed with process of holding an OHD soon.

“I know, we have an ongoing consultation on OTT communications. It is just that in the last few months, we are burning the midnight oil, clearing the number of references pending with us and OTT communication is also in the line,” he said.

OTT companies like WhatsApp, Signal, Skype and others have been communicating in public events and even to the government that they cannot be considered to be proxies for telecom operators since they do not own the Internet networks through which these communications are held.

However, telecom service providers (TSPs) like Bharti Airtel have said that since such OTTs were offering the same services as telecom operators, they were obligated to follow the same rules.

Telecom Act

Meanwhile, in the Telecom Act, the government has classified OTTs as a telecommunication service if it chooses to do so. Retaining the previous definition of telecommunications, it said that the definition applies regardless of whether these messages undergo rearrangement, computation, or other processes at any stage during their transmission, emission, or reception.

The government has also maintained that OTT has been regulated by the IT Act of 2000 and therefore continues to be regulated by the IT Act. “Definitional ambiguity in the bill means that the DoT is not looking to regulate OTTs in the short run. However, they are keeping the option open for the future,” Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Telecommunications and IT had said while introducing the Bill.

But, on whether the Telecom Act has rendered the OTT communication consultation paper infructuous, Lahoti dismissed such a suggestion saying, “No, it is not like that. The OTT consultation was initiated after the recommendation of a Parliamentary Committee so this consultation will be completed and we will give our recommendation...which Act it becomes a part of and which Ministry, or which regulator deals with it, is a separate matter,” he said.

Lahoti affirmed that TRAI is dealing with OTT communications as a subject.

Meanwhile, on unsolicited commercial communications (UCC), the TRAI Chairman informed that the regulator will soon come out with a consultation paper, next month.

“We are going to revise the regulations so that all these problems of UCC can be resolved...will tighten the mechanism, to clamp down on calls being made from normal 10-digit numbers and (will also address) other forms of misuse. we are working on it and soon come out with a consultation paper next month,” lahoti said adding that the Consumer Affairs Ministry, too, is working on the issue of tackling UCC.

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