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TRAI rejects telcos’ proposal to charge popular apps

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MUMBAI: In a victory for the users of WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and other apps, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has decided against a proposal of carriers to impose extra fees on these popular services.

The cellular service providers placed a proposal last month for these apps to share a part of their revenue with them or the government which allow users to route calls and messages via the internet.

As reported by the Economic Times, TRAI has now rejected the idea and also cancelled plans to hold a consultation on the matter. According to the report, TRAI feels that revenue losses can be offset by growth in the usage of data services and that there is no need to intervene at this time. 

The proposal was given on the basis that the mobile service providers were suffering a loss of revenue due to declining use of cellular voice and SMS services.

With the rise over the-top players (OTTPs), many subscribers use these apps rather than their telecom operator's normal voice call and SMS services, affecting the carrier's revenue. Hence telcos, having invested billions of dollars in creating their network, want OTTPs to be regulated so that both parties operate on a level playing field.

Operators want the OTTPs—which use their telecom networks— to pay the same fees that they pay to the government, which if implemented will force the app makers to charge for their services, currently available for free.

The proposal by the telecom companies sparked widespread criticism from the consumers, raising objection to the very idea of imposing fees on specific apps, pointing out that the carriers already charge for internet connectivity.

According to OTT players, seeking payment and the move to regulate them is against the concept of free internet or ‘net neutrality’.

TRAI recently held a seminar titled ‘Regulatory Framework for OTT Services’ bringing several OTT players face-to-face with operators as a precursor to regulating the app space in India. This would have been the first step in a consultation process, which has now reportedly been called off.

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