Indian regulator launches consultation into OTT service restrictions

TRAI issues consultation paper seeking to explore technical challenges in selective banning of OTT platforms.

Gagandeep Kaur, Contributing Editor

July 10, 2023

2 Min Read
Indian regulator launches consultation into OTT service restrictions
India investigates selective shutdowns of OTT services instead of blocking the Internet during security-related events.(Source: Per Bengston/Alamy Stock Photo)

India's Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has launched the consultation process for regulating over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, and selectively banning some of them.

The Indian regulator has issued a consultation paper on this matter. It asks industry stakeholders several questions, including about the definition of OTT services, categories of OTT services and the technical challenges in selective banning of OTT services in different regions of the country, among others. It also asks whether there is a need for a collaborative framework between OTT players and communication service providers.

This is not the first time TRAI has tried to regulate OTT platforms. It decided in 2020 against creating a framework for regulating OTTs, however, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) requested it to reconsider its position and to look into regulatory, economic and security aspects of widespread adoption of OTT services.

The question of Internet shutdowns

One of the reasons for selective banning is to avoid Internet shutdowns in the country, which are becoming more common. According to Access Now, India stopped Internet use 84 times in 2022, the highest number for any country for the fifth consecutive year.

The Indian administration bars Internet access in case of any security-related event to stop the spread of violence but the increasingly frequent shutdowns contradict the government's "Digital India" vision. They also disrupt people's work, especially so for gig workers who are largely dependent on digital infrastructure to carry out their duties. Now the regulator is looking at selective banning of OTT platforms/websites instead of a complete Internet shutdown.

"Keeping in view the fact that complete shutdown of telecom services/ internet affects the people in many ways, the Committee desired to know if it was technically possible to shut down only those services in areas likely to be used by terrorist/ anti-social elements rather than shutting down the internet as a whole," says the consultation paper issued by TRAI.

Regulation of OTT platforms is one of the key demands put forward by service providers, who have been demanding a level playing field since OTT platforms began offering services similar to theirs. The consultation paper says "OTT communication service providers offer voice call, and messaging and video call services similar to the services provided by TSPs [telecom service providers]," noting that the latter companies require a license while OTT service providers don't.

The consultation paper says the revenue contribution of data usage has increased from 8.10% in the quarter ending June 2013 to 85.1% in the December 2022 quarter.

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— Gagandeep Kaur, Contributing Editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Gagandeep Kaur

Contributing Editor

With more than a decade of experience, Gagandeep Kaur Sodhi has worked for the most prominent Indian communications industry publications including Dataquest, Business Standard, The Times of India, and Voice&Data, as well as for Light Reading. Delhi-based Kaur, who has knowledge of and covers a broad range of telecom industry developments, regularly interacts with the senior management of companies in India's telecom sector and has been directly responsible for delegate and speaker acquisition for prominent events such as Mobile Broadband Summit, 4G World India, and Next Generation Packet Transport Network.

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