afaqs! news bureau

TRAI keeping an "open mind" while deciding if OTT should be brought under the regulator

PTI quotes TRAI chairman R S Sharma as stating that by May-end TRAI should be able to formulate its recommendation or regulation.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) believes that by "May-end" it will finalise its views on whether Over-The-Top (OTT) services should be brought under the regulatory regime. A PTI report quotes TRAI saying it has kept an "open mind". The report quotes the TRAI chairman as saying that the regulator studied global best practices like that of the European Electronic Communications Code and will keep those in mind while formulating its opinion.

TRAI keeping an "open mind" while deciding if OTT should be brought under the regulator

R S Sharma

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.

TRAI is set to hold an open house discussion on OTT issues in Bengaluru on Wednesday, April 25 and plans to have a similar one in Delhi soon.

Last year, TRAI issued its consultation paper "Regulatory Framework for Over The Top Communications Service" - to debate whether OTT players should be brought under the regulatory regime.

The report states that TRAI has, however, made it clear that the scope of its current consultation would be regulatory issues and economic concerns pertaining to those OTT services that are the "same or similar" to the services provided by telecom service providers (TSPs).

Its discussion paper is aimed at analysing and discussing "changes that may be required in the current regulatory framework to govern these entities; and the manner in which such changes should be affected".

The regulator had sought the industry's views on which OTT services should be regarded as the same or similar to those offered by telecom operators. Whether "substitutability" should be the main criteria for the comparison of regulatory or licensing rules applicable to TSPs and OTT service providers, was also being considered.

It has also asked whether "regulatory or licensing imbalance" is impacting telecom investments especially required for capacity expansions and technology upgradations and how OTT service providers can participate in infusing investment in telecom networks.

Telecom companies in India have long been demanding that OTT players be brought under the ambit of the regulatory framework as they offer similar services without attached licencing obligations, conditions and levies (such as a licence fee). However, OTTs argue that a regulatory regime would stifle innovation.