Trai to tackle regulatory imbalance in OTT consultation process
“In the OTT consultation, our focus is on the regulatory imbalance from the perspective of telecom operators,” Trai chairman RS Sharma told ET.
The consultation has a limited scope, Sharma said, since the issues surrounding discriminatory pricing and net neutrality have already been sorted out.
Trai is currently focusing only on the regulatory issues and economic concerns that can be associated with apps which provide same or similar services as the telecom service providers, he said.
The regulator is holding an open house discussion in Bengaluru on April 24, followed by one in Delhi next month.
The Trai chairman said telcos say that they are licensees and have restrictions and comply with law enforcement agencies as well unlike communication OTT players, which leads to a regulatory imbalance. Such apps, he said, are considered “free riders” on telecom networks. “It may not be true to call OTT apps merely free riders. Customers ultimately end up paying the data charges for the services they use,” he said.
App companies reject the claim that they are unregulated, saying they are regulated under the IT Act and that any move to regulate them like the telcos will stifle innovation.
Trai is expected to come out with a new OTT framework by the middle of this year.
Since 2015, there has been a demand from telcos to bring OTT apps providers such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber and Google – which have witnessed a massive growth in usage – under the regulatory ambit.
The OTT content market in India is at an inflection point and is expected to touch $5 billion by 2023, the Boston Consulting Group said recently.
Trai has already come out with directives barring discriminatory pricing of data services and has also issued recommendations on net neutrality which have been approved by the government and incorporated in telecom licenses.
In November 2018, the regulator decided to re-initiate a separate consultation on whether or not to regulate communication apps.
The regulator’s decision to rekindle the OTT debate was prompted by the fast-evolving nature of the sector and changes in the regulatory and policy framework since it first began consultations in March 2015. It said its latest paper had factored in the views of stakeholders provided in the 2015 discussion paper on the subject.