In the wake of recent debates over regulating of over-the-top players such as Skype, Viber, Whatspp and GoogleTalk, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), on Friday, sought views from the industry on the need for regulations for those players, security concerns and net neutrality.
“Worldwide, there is an ongoing debate among governments, industry and consumers regarding regulations of OTT (over-the-top) services and net-neutrality. In this background, TRAI released a consultation paper on regulatory framework for OTT services,” TRAI Secretary Sudhir Gupta said in a statement.
Net-neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should treat all data on the Internet equally, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, site, platform, or application. There are no norms for it in the country as of now.
The objective of this consultation paper, the regulator said, was to analyse the implications of the growth of OTTs and consider whether or not changes were required in the current regulatory framework.
Presently, users are not charged any fee by the operators to make calls or send messages using these applications. They just need to pay the regular data charge for Internet browsing. However, telecom operators are of view that the OTT are eating up a part of their revenues without investing in networks.
It added, “The (SMS) messaging traffic fell (in India) from 5,346 million in June 2013 to 4,367 million in June 2014, a decline of 18.3 per cent. This decrease can be attributed almost entirely to an increase in traffic of OTT messaging apps.”
In the consultation paper, the regulator said characteristics of OTT services were such that operators realised revenues solely from the increased data usage by customers.
On the other hand, OTT providers made use of operators’ infrastructure to reach their customers and offered products/services that not only made money for them but also competed with the traditional services offered by operators, it added.
Recently, Bharti Airtel received a lot of flak when it had announced plans to charge extra for Internet voice calls. It later rolled back the plans. The issue, however, led to intense debate over the issue of net-neutrality in the country.
The regulator has sought views of people interested in the matter by April 24 and counter comments by May 8.
On the other hand, the impact on voice services in India due to OTT is not considerable, mainly as voice calling rates here are the lowest. Also, mobile internet penetration is only around 20 per cent, that too predominantly on 2G, and quality of service of such OTT apps is not as good as traditional voice services offered by operators, it added.
The regulator, however, added that there is some amount of cannibalisation on international calling, where rates are substantially higher.