RadioandMusic
| 25 Nov 2020
TRAI wants to know if the time has come to regulate OTT services

NEW DELHI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) asked stakeholders whether it was too early to establish a regulatory framework for over-the-top services (OTT), since internet penetration is still evolving, access speeds are generally low and there is limited coverage of high-speed broadband in the country.

At the same time, TRAI wants to know if some beginning should be made now, with a regulatory framework that could be adapted to changes in the future in a Consultation Paper Regulatory Framework for OTT services. The regulator wants stakeholders to send in their comments by 25 April and counter-comments by 8 May.

It wants to know if OTT players offering communication services (voice, messaging and video call services) through applications (resident either in the country or outside) should be brought under the licensing regime.

It has sought to know whether the growth of OTT is impacting the traditional revenue stream of telecom service providers and if the increase in data revenues of the TSPs is sufficient to compensate for this impact.

The regulator wants stakeholders to state whether OTT players should pay for use of the TSPs networks over and above data charges paid by consumers, pricing options that can be adopted and could they include prices based on bandwidth consumption.

Do stakeholders feel that imbalances exists in the regulatory environment in the operation of OTT players, what should the framework to address these issues be, and how can the prevailing laws and regulations be applied to OTT players (who operate in the virtual world).

At the outset, TRAI has noted that TSPs offering fixed and mobile telephony are currently being overwhelmed by online content, known as over-the-top (OTT) applications and services. The term over-the-top (OTT) refers to applications and services which are accessible over the internet and ride on operators’ networks offering internet access services e.g. social networks, search engines, amateur video aggregation sites  etc. The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Chat On, Snapchat,  Instagram, Kik, Google Talk, Hike, Line, WeChat, Tango, e-commerce sites (Amazon, Flipkart  etc.), Ola, Facebook messenger, Black Berry Messenger, iMessage, online video games and movies (Netflix, Pandora). Today, users can directly access these applications online from any place, at any time, using a variety of internet connected consumers. TSPs also means Network providers, Internet Service Providers, fixed and mobile, broadband providers, data service providers, wireless net providers and access providers.

It said the public internet that started in the 1980s has grown in scope over the last three decades. In its current form, it has the added the ability to carry the entire gamut of services that are required to be delivered to a consumer of telecom services. It allows a telecom subscriber to access almost all the services required for information, education and entertainment. It has enabled an individual’s commercial transactions including retail; in that respect, it has altogether redefined the conventional marketplace. Even personalised services, such as a taxi ride can be accessed at a person’s fingertips. This growth has also brought about a fundamental shift in other spheres including telecom and TV. Earlier, networks used to be built around specific applications, say voice, internet or Pay TV. Voice, message and video content have now been reduced to mere bytes.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to know if there is an economic difference in connecting various networks via a land phone, cell phone, or a computer. In fact, young users find it difficult to distinguish among these three networks; from their perspective, all that matters is connectivity. They visualise these not as a layered and interconnected series of discreet networks, but as an organic whole.

The regulator therefore wants to know how security concerns should be addressed with regard to OTT players providing communication services and what security conditions, such as maintaining data records, logs etc. need to be mandated for such OTT players. Furthermore, suggestions are sought on how the OTT players offering app services ensure security, safety and privacy of the consumer.

TRAI also wants to know what forms of discrimination or traffic management practices are reasonable and consistent with a pragmatic approach, and whether the TSPs should be mandated to publish various traffic management techniques used for different OTT applications.