TRAI’s OTT recommendations uphold the vision of Digital India: IAMAI
Industry reactions are coming in for the OTT regulation recommendations by the Telecom Regulatory of India (TRAI). As reported yesterday (September 15, 2020), TRAI had stated in its recommendations that OTT be kept out of regulatory intervention for now.
Reacting to the recommendations, COAI had said that TRAI had not suggested any resolution of issues such as 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. “Without a resolution of these issues, TSPs will continue to be at a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis OTT Communication Service Providers,” said Lt. Gen. Dr SP Kochhar, DG, COAI.
On the other hand, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has welcomed the recommendation by TRAI, suggesting no regulatory intervention on digital services based on data services by telecom operators, referred to as Over The Top (OTT) services.
In a release issued, IAMAI called TRAI’s recommendations a progressive judgement that upholds the Digital India vision of the Government and that it will help achieve the vision of the National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) as envisaged by the Ministry of Telecommunications.
IAMAI highlighted that the fair and transparent stakeholder’s consultation process followed by TRAI has allowed for the right voices to be heard and the decision taken by TRAI is a reflection of this process. The association has engaged with TRAI on this matter on every occasion as a stakeholder over the years.
The issue of OTT regulation, evolving from the earlier net neutrality and discriminatory pricing debate, was hedged on the argument of revenue loss for telecom operators due to popularity of digital services over conventional telecom services. The brunt of the attack was on messaging services that has led to SMS services being obsolete and VOIP calls at affordable rates that makes ISD calls irrelevant. The arguments for ‘same services same rules’, which was later modified to ‘functional substitutability’, asking for parity in terms of both economic impact and level playing field, have both been refuted by TRAI in its recommendations.
IAMAI expressed gratitude to TRAI for upholding the Association’s longstanding position that digital services are not similar to conventional telecom services or even comparable to them in terms of regulating them. TRAI has also acknowledged the fact that the argument for economic loss does not hold given digital services lead to added revenues for telecom services in terms of data consumption. The decision to allow market forces to deal with the economic aspects of the popularity of OTT services is a landmark decision that augurs well for the fast-emerging digital services sector in India.
TRAI has also satisfactorily addressed the concerns of security and privacy by giving due recognition to the ongoing developments and has categorically refuted any need for regulatory intervention in this regard. IAMAI had highlighted in its submission that the various new regulatory provisions like Personal Data Protection Bill adequately address all such concerns and hence, no further interventions were required.
On the overall issue of Regulation of OTT services, TRAI recognises the various global developments taking place and suggests putting matters on hold till more clarity emerges. IAMAI reiterated that the digital services under consideration are suitably regulated by the Information Technology Act or the forthcoming Data Protection framework or cybersecurity provisions being discussed. The sector is as well-regulated as any telecom service and any future needs can be adequately addressed without stifling its development.
IAMAI also expressed the optimism that the Indian digital sector will respond positively to these recommendations that allows the sector to evolve unfettered.