The Broadband India Forum (BIF), which represents Big Tech companies, has reiterated its stance on keeping over-the-top (OTT) communication apps out of the ambit of the draft telecom Bill. According to the industry forum, regulation of OTT apps would give the government exclusive rights and privileges to decide, build, develop, and operate the apps.
“Such a situation would be grossly ambiguous and highly impractical and lead to a collapse of the entire app ecosystem and thereby impacting innovation and growth of the economy,” BIF said in its comments on the draft telecom Bill to the government.
The forum represents companies such as Google, Amazon, Meta, OneWeb, and Microsoft, among others. In its comments, BIF has urged the government to tweak the definition of telecommunication services and remove OTT communication services, internet-based communication services, and broadcasting services from that.
“In our view, the definition of ‘telecommunication services’ is incorrect and misleading because ‘telecommunication services’ cannot be provided without ‘telecommunication network’ and that part is missing in the definition of ‘telecommunication services’,” BIF said, adding that OTT communication services are not produced from telecommunication network.
According to BIF, the telecom service providers are licensees and have exclusive rights over the network, whereas OTT services offer content rich interaction applications and do not provide internet access to users.
The comments from BIF are in strong contrast with those of the Cellular Operators Association of India (representative of telcos), which is pushing for ‘same service, same rules’ for everyone. According to COAI, the OTT apps ride free on the telecom network and should be regulated like a telecom company.
“OTTs as well as telcos provide calls, videos on the same layer and both are exposed to the same security risks. So it’s not fair to subject one to regulations and leave the other free from such encumbrances,” SP Kochhar, director-general of COAI, said.
In response, BIF said the telecom networks and OTT applications operate in different layers (network layer and application layer respectively). “Application layer is not part of telecommunication network and it will incorrect to assume that Government will have exclusive right to operate apps and grant licences in respect thereto,” BIF said, adding that the OTT communication services should be governed by the IT Act 2000.
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Similarly, for broadcasting services, the organisation said that the aspects like tariffs, quality, content regulation etc are not part of the telecommunication license and, therefore, their regulation in telecom bill should only be confined to telecommunication equipment licensing.
The government has received about 900 comments from the stakeholders on the draft telecom Bill and it would soon come out with a revised draft.