TRAI recommendations on OTT issue likely by Feb-end: RS Sharma

Telecom regulator TRAI hopes to finalise, by February-end, its recommendations on whether over-the-top (OTT) services, such as WhatsApp and Skype, should be brought under the regulatory ambit, according to a top official.

"We will be organising open house discussions soon. And hopefully, by the end of the next month, we should be able to come up with recommendations," TRAI Chairman R.S Sharma told in an interview.

In November last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India initiated a consultation to explore the regulatory framework for OTT apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Google Duo that provide calling and messaging services similar to that by mobile operators.

TRAI also sought public opinion on whether the same rules should be applied to OTT applications as are applied to telecom operators.

This has been a long-pending demand of telecom operators.

Players such as WhatsApp and Facebook have come under the scrutiny of policymakers over issues including data breach and fake news, and any new regulation or licensing requirement is expected to increase pressure on such platforms.

Mobile operators' association COAI has said the highly taxed telecom industry, invested heavily in licence fee, spectrum, telecom equipment and security apparatus, is on an "unequal footing with unregulated OTTs" that offer similar voice, video and data services without regulatory cost.

In its written submission to the regulator, the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) has said the OTT players should be licensed by introducing 'OTT Communication Authorisation' under the unified licence.

Batting for the 'same service, same rules', COAI said that in case similar obligations are not applied to OTT players, a new set of rules or obligations should be adopted for the telecom service providers also.

On the other hand, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and the Broadband India Forum (BIF) have opposed the position by telecom operators that OTT services be brought under the licensing and regulatory ambit.

(Agencies)