TRAI's decision against regulating OTT communication services will benefit consumers, sector: BIF

The comments came after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ruled out any immediate regulatory intervention for OTT communications services like WhatsApp, Google Duo and Viber.
For representational purpose. (File Photo | AFP)
For representational purpose. (File Photo | AFP)

NEW DELHI: TRAI's decision to not regulate OTT (over-the-top) communications services is a forward-looking approach in interest of the consumers and will aid the progress of the sector that has shown no demonstrable and evident instances of harm or dysfunction of the markets, BIF said on Tuesday.

The comments came after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled out any immediate regulatory intervention for OTT communications services like WhatsApp, Google Duo and Viber.

It said time is not opportune to recommend a comprehensive regulatory framework for them, dashing hopes of telcos that had been pushing for same rules to be applied to such players.

Describing TRAI's recommendations on OTT as "bold and progressive stroke" in interest of consumers and economic development, industry think-tank Broadband India Forum (BIF), in a statement, lauded the regulator on adopting a "forward-looking approach in choosing to not regulate a sector wherein there have been no demonstrable and evident instances of harm or dysfunction of the markets."

OTT services refer to applications and services that are accessible over the internet and ride on an operator's network.

Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Hike are some of the popular and widely-used OTT services.

The importance and effectiveness of such services have been amply demonstrated during the COVID-19 crisis, as numerous digital services have helped the citizens in maintaining connectivity and near-normal operations via OTT applications, BIF said.

Several studies have also documented the relevance and contribution of OTTs in enhancing productivity, and efficiency, it said.

As per an ICRIER report, apps contributed a minimum Rs 1.4 lakh crore to India's GDP in 2015-16, and the number is steadily rising and estimated to be Rs 18 lakh crore by end of 2020.

"OTTs have enabled accessibility of digital tools and amenities for the people, thereby enriching lives and empowering them by helping to enhance their productivity and socio-economic standing," BIF President T V Ramachandran said.

This has led to massive spill-over effects, adding to the nation's economic prosperity.

"It is great that the regulator has decided to permit market forces to operate freely in the sector without need for any regulatory intervention, which will help incentivise the growth and progress of this vital sector," Ramachandran said.

Arguing that telecom operators and OTTs are as different as "chalk and cheese", he said it is for this reason that they should not be compared on equal grounds.

"We firmly believe that the interests of a particular segment of the industry should not prevail over the numerous benefits to the citizens, the national economy, and the overall growth of the sector," he added.

OTTs are not substitutes of telcos but rather depend on them, BIF said, pointing out that OTT applications cannot be offered without access to the physical networks, that only operators deploy.

As OTT and telecom service providers are not in the same turf, the level playing field condition does not apply, BIF said, adding that certain quarters had "incorrectly expressed concern" regarding lack of provision of a level-playing field in the TRAI recommendations.

BIF said it strongly believes that all members contributing to the delivery of enabling and empowering digital services, including OTTs, should be treated as essential service providers.

"Today, measures like work-from-home, distant education, updating and dissemination of critical information and messages, have been enabled by these services in the challenging circumstances.

Therefore, they should be provided all the required support to nurture and advance, for the benefit of the citizens and the growth of the national economy," it said.

On Monday, TRAI had come out with its recommendations on OTT services, saying "it is not an opportune moment to recommend a comprehensive regulatory framework for various aspects of services referred to as OTT services, beyond the extant laws and regulations prescribed presently".

TRAI had further said that no regulatory interventions are needed for privacy and security related issues of OTT services for now.

The regulator said market forces should be allowed to respond to the situation without prescribing any regulatory intervention.

"However, developments shall be monitored and intervention as felt necessary shall be done at appropriate time," it said.

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