TRAI preparing regulatory framework for Internet apps

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on March 29, 2015

Seeks comments on consultation paper from industry stakeholders

The country’s telecom regulator has started preparing a regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) communication services, or Internet-based calls and messages.

“Worldwide, there is a debate going on among governments, industry and consumers regarding regulations of OTT services and net neutrality. In this background, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has released a consultation paper on regulatory framework for OTT services,” Sudhir Gupta, Secretary, TRAI, said.

OTT refers to applications and services that are accessible on the Internet and riding on operator networks offering Internet access services, such as social networks, search engines and amateur video aggregation sites. Some such OTT sites are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Chat On, Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, Google Talk, Hike, Line, WeChat, Tango, Facebook Messenger and eCommerce sites like Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal.

Users can directly access these applications online from any place, any time, using a variety of Internet-connected devices at no cost, which was a cause of discontent for telecom service providers (TSPs) who felt they were losing out on SMS usage.

TRAI, therefore, has requested industry stakeholders to send their comments on the consultation paper posted on its website by April 24, and counter-comments by May 8.

‘Is there a need to regulate subscription charges for OTT communication services and what steps should be taken by the Government for regulation of non-communication OTT players?’ These are some of questions raised by TRAI in its consultation paper.

Earlier, TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar had indicated starting the process of framing a regulation on OTT services after Bharti Airtel drew criticism from the public for its plan to charge separately for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls, against the principles of net neutrality.

At present, there is no legislation in India on net neutrality.

TRAI said telecom service providers offering fixed and mobile telephony are currently being overwhelmed by online content or OTT applications and services.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to know if there is an economic difference in connecting various networks via a landline phone, cell phone or a computer. In fact, young users find it difficult to distinguish among these three networks. From their perspective, all that matters is connectivity,” TRAI said.

On the other side, OTT providers make use of the service providers’ infrastructure to reach customers, which not only helps them make money but also allows them to compete with traditional services offered by telecom service providers, it said, adding that therefore, it has sought views from stakeholders for a regulatory framework.

Published on March 29, 2015
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