The Indian telecom watchdog Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has decided not to restrict any regulations regarding the privacy and security of OTT (Over-the-Top) communications services at this time.
In its recommendations, TRAI considered that “it is not an appropriate time to recommend a comprehensive regulatory framework for various aspects of services called OTT services, beyond the existing laws and regulations currently prescribed”.
TRAI noted that market forces must be able to respond to the situation.
“It could be reconsidered as more clarity emerges in international jurisdictions, particularly the study conducted by ITU,” said TRAI.
TRAI has found that no country has done anything to regulate communication apps.
To arrive at these recommendations, TRAI issued a consultation document in November 2018 and raised several issues such as similarity and substitutability of TSP and OTT services, regulatory imbalances and an uneven playing field between TSPs and OTT service providers, economics, interoperability, lawful interception of OTT services and Access to OTT emergency services for comments and counter-comments from interested parties.
Last year, two open house talks took place in Bangalore and Delhi, where stakeholders participated and consulted on the issues.
Breathing room for FB, WA, Google
OTT communication players such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Viber and Telegram can breathe a sigh of relief about TRAI’s recommendation for the time being. These communication apps have fended off the attempts of telecom companies to get them under some regulatory framework.
Phone companies are looking for parity with OTT apps, saying they were free network riders who compromised their earnings by offering similar services through video calling or instant messaging for free without having to pay fees such as licensing fees.
On the other hand, app companies are against regulation, saying they are already covered by IT law and that any step to curtail it would stifle innovation.
Telecom companies angry
The TRAI statement, even if it is provisional, was not well received by the telcos.
Telecom operators are angry that while they must adhere to a strict regulatory and licensing framework, the same is not true for OTT players
Speak to the Economic timesLt Gen Dr. SP Kochar, Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), representing Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, said: “none of the problems TRAI’s consultation paper had two years ago, including similarity and substitutability of TSPs and OTT communication services, regulatory imbalances and an uneven playing field between telcos and OTT players were addressed by the regulator in the current recommendations ”.