Regulators

TRAI seeks views to regulate Over-The-Top services

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NEW DELHI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) today asked stakeholders whether it was too early to establish a regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services, since internet penetration is still evolving, and access speeds are generally low and there is limited coverage of high-speed broadband in the country.

At the same time, TRAI sought opinion on whether a beginning should be made now with a regulatory framework that could be adapted to changes in the future in a Consultation Paper on ‘Regulatory Framework for OTT services.’ The regulator wants stakeholders to send in their comments by 25 April and counter-comments by 8 May.

TRAI wants to know if OTT players offering communication services (voice, messaging and video call services) through applications (resident either in the country or outside) should be brought under the licensing regime.

It has sought suggestions on whether the growth of OTT is impacting the traditional revenue stream of telecom service providers and is the increase in data revenues of the TSPs sufficient to compensate for this impact.

The regulator wants stakeholders to state whether the OTT players should pay for use of the TSPs network over and above data charges paid by consumers, the pricing options that can be adopted and could they include prices based on bandwidth consumption.

Do stakeholders feel that imbalances exist in the regulatory environment in the operation of OTT players? What should the framework to address these issues be, and how can the prevailing laws and regulations be applied to OTT players (who operate in the virtual world)? are some of the questions to which, TRAI wants answers.

At the outset, TRAI has noted that TSPs offering fixed and mobile telephony are currently being overwhelmed by online content, known as OTT applications and services. The term OTT refers to applications and services, which are accessible over the internet and ride on operators’ networks offering internet access services e.g. social networks, search engines, amateur video aggregation sites etc. The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Chat On, Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, Google Talk, Hike, Line, WeChat, Tango, e-commerce sites (Amazon, Flipkart etc.), Ola, Facebook messenger, BlackBerry Messenger, iMessage, online video games and movies (Netflix, Pandora). Today, users can directly access these applications online from any place, at any time, using a variety of internet connected consumers. TSPs also means Network providers, Internet Service Providers, fixed and mobile, broadband providers, data service providers, wireless net providers and access providers.

It said the public internet that started in the 1980s has grown in scope over the last three decades. In its current form, it has the added ability to carry the entire gamut of services that are required to be delivered to a consumer of telecom services. It allows a telecom subscriber to access almost all the services required for information, education and entertainment. It has enabled an individual’s commercial transactions including retail; in that respect, it has altogether redefined the conventional marketplace. Even personalized services, such as a taxi ride can be accessed on a person’s fingertips. This growth has also brought about a fundamental shift in other spheres including telecom and TV. Earlier, networks used to be built around specific applications, say voice, internet or Pay TV. Voice, message and video content have now been reduced to mere bytes.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to know if there is an economic difference in connecting various networks via a land phone, cell phone, or a computer. In fact, young users find it difficult to distinguish among these three networks; from their perspective, all that matters is connectivity. They visualize these not as a layered and interconnected series of discreet networks, but as an organic whole.

The regulator therefore wants to know how the security concerns should be addressed with regard to OTT players providing communication services and what security conditions such as maintaining data records, logs etc. need to be mandated for such OTT players. Furthermore, suggestions are sought on how the OTT players offering app services ensure security, safety and privacy of the consumer.

What forms of discrimination or traffic management practices are reasonable and consistent with a pragmatic approach, the regulator wants to know, and whether the TSPs be mandated to publish various traffic management techniques used for different OTT applications.

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