TRAI may soon regulate OTT players like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype etc.

By | March 28, 2015

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) seeks your views in order to prepare a framework for regulating over the top (OTT) players like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber etc. These services make use of telecom infrastructure, as they thrive on mobile internet for making calls and messaging. Mobile operators have been claiming that they are facing losses on account of call and SMS traffic being transferred to these OTT services. They have been claiming that these services must be charged for as they make money without spending a penny on telecom infrastructure.

“Worldwide, there is an ongoing debate among governments, industry and consumers regarding regulations of OTT services and net-neutrality. In this background, TRAI today released a consultation paper on regulatory framework for OTT services,” the regulator said in a statement here on Friday.whatsapp

“Today, users can directly access these applications online from any place, at any time, using a variety of internet connected consumer devices. It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to know if there is an economic difference in connecting various networks via a landline phone, cell phone, or a computer,” the consultation paper said.

OTT services though add to the telcos data revenue as people shift most of their communication needs like calling and texting over to the mobile data. However, TSP’s complain that they don’t get additional revenue or carriage charges from bandwidth being used by these OTT players.

The consultation paper mainly consists of 20 questions, which mainly tries to judge the impact of OTT regulation. Many people believe that if OTT’s are asked to pay TSP’s then net neutrality can’t be maintained. The comments on these 20 questions are invited till 24th of April and counter comment by May 8 at advqos@trai.gov.in. Below is the list of 20 questions for your perusal.

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Question 1: Is it too early to establish a regulatory framework for OTT services, since internet penetration is still evolving, access speeds are generally low and there is limited coverage of high-speed broadband in the country? Or, should some beginning be made now with a regulatory framework that could be adapted to changes in the future? Please comment with justifications.

Question 2: Should the OTT players offering communication services (voice, messaging and video call services) through applications (resident either in the country or outside) be brought under the licensing regime? Please comment with justifications.

Question 3: Is the growth of OTT impacting the traditional revenue stream of TSPs? If so, is the increase in data revenues of the TSPs sufficient to compensate for this impact? Please comment with reasons.

Question 4: Should the OTT players pay for use of the TSPs network over and above data charges paid by consumers? If yes, what pricing options can be adopted? Could such options include prices based on bandwidth consumption? Can prices be used as a means product/service differentiation? Please comment with justifications.

Question 5: Do you agree that imbalances exist in the regulatory environment in the operation of OTT players? If so, what should be the framework to address these issues? How can the prevailing laws and regulations be applied to OTT players (who operate in the virtual world) and compliance enforced? What could be the impact on the economy? Please comment with justifications.

Question 6: How should the security concerns be addressed with regard to OTT players providing communication services? What security conditions such as maintaining data records, logs etc. need to be mandated for such OTT players? And, how can compliance with these conditions be ensured if the applications of such OTT players reside outside the country? Please comment with justifications.

Question 7: How should the OTT players offering app services ensure security, safety and privacy of the consumer? How should they ensure protection of consumer interest? Please comment with justifications.

Question 8: In what manner can the proposals for a regulatory framework for OTTs in India draw from those of ETNO, referred to in para 4.23 or the best practices summarised in para 4.29? And, what practices should be proscribed by regulatory fiat? Please comment with justifications.

Question 9: What are your views on net-neutrality in the Indian context? How should the various principles discussed in para 5.47 be dealt with? Please comment with justifications.

Question 10: What forms of discrimination or traffic management practices are reasonable and consistent with a pragmatic approach? What should or can be permitted? Please comment with justifications.

Question 11: Should the TSPs be mandated to publish various traffic management techniques used for different OTT applications? Is this a sufficient condition to ensure transparency and a fair regulatory regime?

Question 12: How should a conducive and balanced environment be created such that TSPs are able to invest in network infrastructure and CAPs are able to innovate and grow? Who should bear the network upgradation costs? Please comment with justifications

Question 13: Should TSPs be allowed to implement non-price based discrimination of services? If so, under what circumstances are such practices acceptable? What restrictions, if any, need to be placed so that such measures are not abused? What measures should be adopted to ensure transparency to consumers? Please comment with justifications.

Question 14: Is there a justification for allowing differential pricing for data access and OTT communication services? If so, what changes need to be brought about in the present tariff and regulatory framework for telecommunication services in the country? Please comment with justifications.

Question 15: Should OTT communication service players be treated as Bulk User of Telecom Services (BuTS)? How should the framework be structured to prevent any discrimination and protect stakeholder interest? Please comment with justification.

Question 16: What framework should be adopted to encourage India-specific OTT apps? Please comment with justifications.

Question 17: If the OTT communication service players are to be licensed, should they be categorised as ASP or CSP? If so, what should be the framework? Please comment with justifications.

Question 18: Is there a need to regulate subscription charges for OTT communication services? Please comment with justifications.

Question 19: What steps should be taken by the Government for regulation of non-communication OTT players? Please comment with justifications.

Question 20: Are there any other issues that have a bearing on the subject discussed?

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