In its recent recommendations, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has said there is no need to regulate over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram, among others.
However, TRAI also said it's necessary to monitor market developments and it may intervene later once more clarity emerges, especially after the International Telecom Union (ITU) study is out. The ITU is likely to come up with guidelines or a regulatory framework on the various aspects of OTTs.
Another reason for TRAI to avoid regulating the OTTs might be that OTT platforms do not own or operate a network and so don't fall under the purview of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. Telcos in India are granted licenses and spectrum under the ITA 1885 act.
Not all agree
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which has Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio as members, has said that the TRAI recommendations do not address the issues raised by telcos.
Indian service providers have been fighting for regulations for OTT platforms on the grounds of security and privacy concerns. They allege that while telcos are bound by government rules for lawful interception by security agencies, this is not the case for OTT platforms. Further, they say that since OTTs do not come under the purview of government agencies they compromise national security.
The service providers also argue that while the OTTs offer similar communication and messaging services as CSPs the lack of regulation gives them an advantage over telcos.
OTTs and TSPs: 'different as chalk and cheese'
"It is great that the regulatory has decided to permit market forces to operate freely in the sector without need for any regulatory intervention, which will help incentivise the growth and progress of this vital sector," said TV Ramachandran, president of the Broadband India Forum (BIF) in a press note.
"TSPs [telecom service providers] and OTTs are as different as chalk and cheese, and therefore should not be compared on equal grounds," he added. "We firmly believe that the interests of a particular segment of the industry should not prevail over the numerous benefits to the citizens, the national economy, and the overall growth of the sector."
The relevance of OTTs has increased significantly in the COVID-19 pandemic as people use online platforms to remain in touch with family and friends as their movements are curtailed.
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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading