The draft telecommunication Bill has once again created a deep divide between the telecom operators and over-the-top (OTT) players over the move to bring the latter under a licensing framework. Such a deep divide between the two sides was last visible in 2015 over the issue of net neutrality when the telcos felt that they were losing revenues on account of OTT players providing calling and messaging services but not paying any regulatory levies.
While no OTT player spoke on record, Broadband India Forum, the association of technology players, which has members like Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, among others, voiced a strong protest over the proposal to bring OTTs under licensing framework in the new Bill. “Some of the provisions of the draft Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022, unfortunately appear to be prohibitive rather than facilitating/enabling for the larger digital ecosystem in the country,” BIF president TV Ramachandran said in a statement on Friday.
Majority of the OTT communication services ecosystem is being developed by a number of startups, SMEs, members from academia and professionals. “Subjecting such services to licensing could harm the nascent startups ecosystem, leading to constricting the PM’s flagship mission of startup India”, BIF said.
It added that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had conducted a detailed consultation on the subject matter over four years, and came to the conclusion based on holistic feedback from all stakeholders and international best practices, that OTT communication services should not be regulated or licensed.
In its preliminary comments, Cellular Operators Association of India said, “In keeping with the recent trend of reformative policy making by the government, this draft Indian telecommunication Bill is another milestone step to develop a modern and future-ready legal framework in telecommunication.”
Telcos have for long held the view that there should be one service, one rule, so the OTTs should also be brought under licensing as they also provide calling and messaging services. The reason licensing is being opposed by OTTs is that it will bring their calling and messaging services under legal interception and surveillance just as the services of telecom operators are. They feel that this could take away substantial traffic from their services.