The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a consultation paper to debate whether over-the-Top (OTT) services, including WhatsApp, Skype, Hike, WeChat and Facebook Messenger, should be brought under the regulatory regime.

OTT services refer to those applications and services accessible over the internet by riding on a TSP’s network — for instance, video calling, voice messaging and messaging.

The consultation paper has been long-awaited for discussions as such platforms have grown a lot over the last three years, and there is a requirement to check if there is any imbalance in the regulatory framework between OTT players and TSPs.

TRAI’s ‘Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-Top communication services’ will help discuss and address all concerns. It has asked the industry to give its views on various issues raised in the consultation paper by December 10 and counter comments by December 24.

The consultation is aimed at discussing changes that may be required in the current regulatory framework to govern these entities; and the manner in which such changes should be effected, TRAI said.

Some of the issues it has highlighted for consultation include — whether inter-operability among OTT services and also interoperability of their services with TSPs services promote competition and benefit the users, and what kind of measures can be taken, if any, to promote such competition.

It has asked for defining of which services, when provided by the OTT service providers, be regarded as the same or similar to services being provided by the TSPs.

Licensing norms

TRAI has also asked industry’s views on whether substitutability be treated as the primary criterion for comparison of ‘regulatory or licensing norms applicable to TSPs and OTT service providers’.

The regulator has asked if there should also be provisions for emergency services to be made accessible via OTT platforms at par with the requirements prescribed for operators as OTT are also providing voice-call facilities. The authority has sought suggestions if there are any issues related to lawful interception of OTT communication that are required to be resolved in the interest of national security or any other safeguards that need to be instituted. “Should the responsibilities of OTT service providers and TSPs be separated?” it has asked in the paper.

It has sought to know whether there is an issue of non-level playing field between OTT providers and TSPs providing same or similar services.

And, in case there is an issue, should there be any regulatory or licensing norms made applicable to OTT service providers to make it a level playing field.