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Need to clearly define OTT communication services in draft telecom bill, telecom body urges govt

The comments from the association comes amid public consultation process by the Department of Telecommunications on the draft telecom bill.

Need to clearly define OTT communication services in draft telecom bill, telecom body urges govt
In the draft bill, the government has expanded the scope of telecommunications to include over-the-top communication services, internet and satellite based communication services, machine-to-machine communication services, among others under the ambit of the new law. (IE)

The Cellular Operators Association of India has pushed forward a strong demand of its member companies to regulate the over-the-top or OTT communication players such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telgram etc. The association, whih represents Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea has urged the government to define the OTT Communication services in the draft telecom bill in order to bring comprehensiveness and avoid any possible ambiguity.

The comments from the association comes amid public consultation process by the Department of Telecommunications on the draft telecom bill. In the draft bill, the government has expanded the scope of telecommunications to include over-the-top communication services, internet and satellite based communication services, machine-to-machine communication services, among others under the ambit of the new law.

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“There is a need to ensure a level playing field among all technologies, i.e. Same Service Same Rules with respect to OTT Communication Services, so that fair and healthy competition prevails in the industry,” COAI said, adding that opinions against the applicability of same service, same rules between both telcom companies and OTT players are misinformed.

“It has been erroneously suggested that Telecom Services and OTT Applications do not operate on the same layer, when in fact; services such as calls (voice/video) whether provided by the TSPs or the OTT Apps, operate on the same layer, essentially riding on the network layer,” the association said.

COAI statement comes in counter to that of Asia Internet Coalition, an industry body that represents companies like Apple, Google, and Meta, which said that the OTT communication players are different from the telecom service providers and both of them should be governed through different laws.

According to Asia Internet Coalition, the telecom service providers have an upper hand as unlike OTT service providers, they have the right to lease spectrum from the government, obtain numbering resources, and interconnect with the Public Switched Telecom Networks.

“It may be noted that TSPs undergo a government mandated process for allocation of right to use of spectrum, numbering resources, etc. by undertaking critical commitments in terms of deliverables defined by the license agreement and invest heavily in setting up networks. OTTs, on the other hand, are free from any of these obligations, but enjoy all the privileges of delivering the same services, without having to bear any of the regulatory obligations, security obligations, investment or network requirements,” COAI said, adding that OTTs have chosen not to opt for these privileges so as to avoid the associated obligations.

Lately, telecom operator such as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have called for regulation of OTTs as the same is eating into their revenues by offering similar services such as free internet calls on the telecom network, without incurring any additional costs, investments or need for a license.

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“Apart from investing massive amounts in creating the network Infrastructure and incurring huge operational expenses in terms of meeting various Regulatory compliances, TSPs also pay exorbitant levies and taxes in terms of License Fee, SUC, GST, etc,” COAI said. “On the other hand, OTT communication service providers, who are enjoying huge direct/indirect benefits and revenues by utilizing the TSPs’ networks, are not subjected to such taxes and levies, thus causing loss to the Government exchequer,” it added.

The association has pressed for the need for OTT players to invest an contribute towards development of digital network and infrastructure in the country, and meet the requirements of National Security and Consumer Rights.

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First published on: 26-10-2022 at 01:50 IST