The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents major telecom companies, has proposed a framework for over-the-top (OTT) communication apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram to compensate telcos for using the network to provide their services.
Batting for a ‘same service and same rules’ principle, telcos have pitched for network access charges for OTT communication providers for the data traffic they carry over the telcos’ networks.
“Contribution of OTTs to network costs can be based on assessable criteria like volume of traffic, turnover threshold and number of users,” COAI said in its comments on the draft telecom Bill.
According to COAI, the government would earn about `800 crore annually in terms of licence fee with regulation of OTT players (which primarily includes entertainment and communication service providers).
“Since the TSPs (telecom service provider) will be receiving revenues from OTTs as part of their telecommunications services rendered, they would automatically be paying licence fee to the government (as part of TSPs’ adjusted gross revenue) on an incremental basis to the extent of the payments by OTTs to TSPs,” COAI said in its comments.
The association is yet to share a complete financial model for this and has demanded regulation of OTT communication apps, since they are offering a similar service like telcos. COAI reiterated that the government should clearly define OTTs providing telecommunication services similar to telcos such as voice/ video calling and messaging in the Bill.
“Today, TSPs create the network and they pay for it, ISPs (internet service providers) buy the bandwidth out of that network and provide services to the consumers who pay for the services. OTTs ride on this (network) free of cost and gives services to the consumers, but get indirect profit,” SP Kochhar, director general of COAI told reporters.
According to Kochhar, telcos only want light-touch regulation for OTT communication apps, which broadly includes a financial model like compensation and compliance with law and security enforcement.
The association also wants OTT apps, gaming and social media companies to contribute to the Telecommunication Development Fund and invest towards creation of digital infrastructure.
The comments from COAI sharply contrast those from the Broadband India Forum (BIF), an association of big tech companies, which has urged the government to remove OTT communication services, internet-based communication services, and broadcasting services from the purview of telecommunication services.
“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.
COAI has also urged the government to consider reimbursement related to loss incurred by telcos in case of shutdown of internet services by the government. As part of the Bill, the government has the right to order suspension of telecom services under situations of public emergency, public safety, or national security concerns.