TRAI to decide on future of WhatsApp, Skype: Free VoIP and video callings apps may come under regulatory framework

Apps like WhatsApp and Skype offer free messaging, voice and video capabilities

Telecom regulator may come out with recommendations next month to decide whether to control over-the-top players like WhatsApp and Skype and bring them under the regulatory framework. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is looking at the voice and video calling services offered by the OTT players like WhatsApp and Skype that put it in direct competition with the existing telecom players. If the regulator decides to bring the OTT players under the regulation then these apps will be required to get a telecom license from the government to offer their services.

The telecom companies have been demanding a level playing field and are incurring huge losses owing to these OTT players. Apps like WhatsApp and Skype offer free messaging, voice and video capabilities. With internet penetration peaking and conventional tastes changing in India, even cable and DTH industry is sweating and feeling the heat of Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.

“The telecom service providers (TSPs) have been saying that there is a regulatory imbalance because the OTTs are also providing same or similar services as them but while TSPs are governed by a definite set of obligations under their licensing conditions, no such obligations are applicable on OTTs”, Trai chairman RS Sharma, who chaired an open house discussion on the matter on Monday, said according to the Financial Express.

Sharma said that the regulator will come out with a set of recommendations or regulations in a month, however, he wasn’t able to confirm the form of outcome.

Last year, Trai had issued a consultation paper to debate whether OTT players should be brought under a regulatory regime. Of late, many of these platforms have come under a greater scrutiny, and the Indian government is also proposing changes in IT rules to seek greater accountability from OTT firms like WhatsApp and Facebook. Asked if there would be overlap between the regulator’s consultation and ongoing efforts of the IT ministry, Trai chairman R S Sharma told reporters that the authority is careful to ensure that there are no regulatory overlaps or conflicts.

OTT industry in India is expected to reach $5 billion by 2023 and rural areas will play a big role in OTT consumption. About 48% of India’s internet users, around 650 million by 2023, are expected to be from rural areas, as per Boston Consulting Group.

Meanwhile, not everyone is in favour of the regulation of the OTT sector. Many think that the regulation will kill the innovation while others are in favour of the light-touch regulation. On the other hand, OTT players have maintained that they are not telecom operators as they transmit data packets over the internet and have no end-to-end channel for communication.

Broadband India Forum’s Debashish Bhattacharya noted that most OTTs had infused significant investments in data centres, infrastructure, and fibre network, and stressed that any perception that OTTs are free riders on telecom networks was “flawed”. “OTTs are not free riders…OTTs are also leading to significant revenue generation and huge investments… they are innovating and creating new services, and have enabled explosive data growth amongst telecom service providers,” Bhattacharya said adding that the two services had a symbiotic relationship.

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Author: Sham