Trai rules out intervention for OTT services; COAI says issues unaddressed

16/09/2020

NEW DELHI, SEP 15: Regulator Trai ruled out any immediate regulatory intervention for OTT communication services like Whatsapp, Google Duo and Viber, and said time is not opportune to recommend a comprehensive regulatory framework for them dashing hopes of telcos that had been pushing for same rules to be applied to such players.
The entire matter can be looked into afresh when more clarity emerges in international jurisdictions particularly the study undertaken by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), Trai said outlining its views on the issue of regulatory framework for OTT (Over-The-Top) communication services.
The move comes as a breather for OTT players, which have come under increasing scrutiny otherwise, but deals a blow to telcos' long-standing demand for parity and level-playing-field with such OTT services that cannibalise their own offerings. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said it had been hopeful that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) would address and rectify these "long pending market anomalies once and for all". The COAI rued that without a resolution of these issues, telecom service providers will continue to be at a "disadvantageous position" vis-a-vis OTT communication service providers, who are not subject to strict regulatory/ licensing framework as telecom companies are.
OTT services refer to applications and services that are accessible over the internet and ride on an operator's network. Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Hike are some of the popular and widely-used OTT services. In a statement, Trai said, "It is not an opportune moment to recommend a comprehensive regulatory framework for various aspects of services referred to as OTT services, beyond the extant laws and regulations prescribed presently."
Trai further said that no regulatory interventions are needed for privacy and security related issues of OTT services for now. Trai said that 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," the regulator said. Trai had come out with a discussion paper on regulatory framework for such services in November 2018 where it had sought industry's views on multiple issues. These issues were similarity and substitutability of telecom service providers and OTT services, regulatory imbalance and non-level playing field between these two types of service providers, economic aspects, inter-operability, lawful interception of OTT services as well as access of emergency services from OTT.

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