Telecom operators have urged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to regulate over-the-top (OTT) players same as the operators in terms of licensing at the earliest, as the latter gives similar services of a telco.

In a closed door meeting held on Wednesday, representatives of telcos such as Bharti Airtel (Airtel), Reliance Jio (Jio), Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL), Vodafone-Idea (VIL) and Tata Teleservices (Mumbai) wondered why when they are subjected to all regulations and licence fee, the same rules are not applied to OTT players.

TRAI had scheduled the meeting with the operators and internet service providers to chalk out the agenda for 2023. The meeting was chaired by PD Vaghela, Chairman, TRAI and Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal, VIL Chief Regulatory and Corporate Affairs Officer, P Balaji, and Reliance Jio board member, Mahendra Nahata participated in the discussions.

“While we are subjected to regulatory mandates such as license fee, spectrum usage charges (SUC), lawful interceptions and data privacy, there are no such requirements for the OTT ecosystem yet, even though they are providing the same services,” a senior executive of a telcom player told businessline.

Unanimous pitch

The telecom services providers (TSPs) have long been demanding a level-playing-field with OTTs asking for a ‘same service, same rules’ from the regulators and were made a unanimous pitch for the same in the meeting.

“The messaging services are almost nil for the TSPs now, so no revenue and call termination revenue also nil after making all calling free by all operators. But, all messages or calling services are being used by the OTTs and we get nothing in return. Therefore, OTTs should now come under a licensing framework to have government/ regulatory jurisdiction,” said an executive from another TSP.

OTT communication services include the likes of WhatsApp, Signal, Google Meet and Telegram and entertainment service providers who also run their services through these telcos include the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos, Hotstar and MX Player.

Meanwhile, during the meeting with TRAI, TSPs also sought reduction of levies such as licence fee and indicated that they have to increase the tariff rates to justify their investments, especially in the rural areas where the average revenue per user is still very low.

Gopal Vittal of Airtel, in an earnings call with analysts last week, had also indicated that the company will focus on 60,000 high-potential villages in the coming months, out of which it has identified roughly 40,000 ‘high-potential’ cluster of communities because its important for Airtel to make an individual tower profitable and maximise the revenue from what it has now.

“In 60,000, high potential regions, Airtel is just not present. We could have gone there earlier, but today I think the time is right for us to expand in these areas. This expansion will give us our fair share and provide fair market share and add tailwinds to the business,” he had added.