TRAI keeps OTT out of regulatory intervention, for now; COAI expresses dismay

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued its recommendations on ‘Regulatory Framework for Over-The-Top (OTT) Communication Services’ after a multistage consultation process. In arriving at these recommendations, TRAI had issued a consultation Paper on November 12, 2018, where it had raised various issues like similarity and sustainability of Telecom Service Provider (TSP) and OTT services, regulatory imbalance and non-level playing field between TSP and OTT service providers, economic aspects, interoperability, lawful interception of OTT services and access of emergency services from OTT and so on. The Authority had sought the comments and counter-comments from stakeholders on the same.

Subsequently, two Open House Discussions (OHD) were held – one at Bangalore on April 24, 2019 and another one at Delhi on May 20, 2019, where stakeholders participated and deliberated on the issues.

The salient features of TRAI’s recommendations are:

  • Market forces may be allowed to respond to the situation without prescribing any regulatory intervention. However, developments shall be monitored and intervention, as felt necessary, shall be done at appropriate time.
  • No regulatory interventions are required in respect of issues related with Privacy and security of OTT services at the moment.
  • It is not an opportune moment to recommend a comprehensive regulatory framework for various aspects of OTT services beyond the extant laws and regulations prescribed presently. It may be looked into afresh when more clarity emerges in international jurisdictions, particularly the study undertaken by ITU (International Telecommunication Union - Telecommunication Standardisation Sector).

TSPs will continue to be at a disadvantageous position: COAI

Meanwhile, commenting on TRAI’s recommendations, Lt. Gen. Dr SP Kochhar, DG, COAI, said, “COAI has diligently studied the recommendations issued by TRAI. The consultation paper issued by TRAI two years back had posed various important issues like Similarity and Substitutability of TSPs and OTT communication services, Regulatory Imbalance and Non-level playing field between TSPs and OTT communication service providers, Lawful Interception of OTT services and Access of Emergency Services from OTT, etc. However, it appears none of these issues have been addressed by TRAI in their current recommendations. We were actually hopeful that TRAI would address and rectify these long pending market anomalies once for all.”

Adding further, he said, “Without a resolution of these issues, TSPs will continue to be at a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis OTT Communication Service Providers (CSPs). While TSPs have to abide by a strict regulatory and licensing framework in order to provide the communication services, no regulatory/ licensing framework is applicable on those OTT players who offer similar Communication Services in the form of messaging, voice and video calls. We are of the view that these OTT services are substitutable to the services provided by the TSPs and hence a case of non-level playing field exists. Further, the security issues, for example, lawful interception which TSPs comply, are not applicable on OTT CSPs, which remains a threat to the national security. The same is true in case of the privacy and security norms, which are applicable on telcos, but not applicable on OTT CSPs, who also offer messaging and voice/ video communication services.”


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