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NEW DELHI : Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents leading telecom players Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, called for regulation of OTT communication apps seeking level playing field among all technologies and equal applicability of same rules for offering same services.  

The body has argued that OTT communication apps should be brought under the ambit of the new draft telecom bill, while seeking that OTT should be clearly defined in the bill. It also argued that OTTs must invest and contribute towards development of robust digital network and infrastructure in the country, on the same lines as telcos that pay levies and taxes to the government.    
 

"COAI welcomes inclusion of OTT Communication Services in the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, recently released by DoT. However, in order to bring comprehensiveness and avoid any possible ambiguity, COAI is of the considered view that the OTT Communication services need to be defined in the draft Telecom Bill," the association said. 

Dismissing views by opposing side, COAI argued that principle of ‘Same Service, Same Rules’ was applicable for OTT communication services such as calls (voice/video) whether provided by telcos or the OTT apps, because they operate on the same network layer. 

COAI also said that Article 14 of the Constitution of India was applicable equally on both OTTs and telcos for providing the same services, as opposed to arguments that say otherwise, and noted that the argument that only telcos should be regulated since they have right to spectrum, numbering resources, interconnect with PSTN and right of way (row) for setting infrastructure, was flawed.   

"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," the association said.  

Further, the association said that OTT players have chosen not to opt for obtaining right to spectrum, numbering resources, interconnect with PSTN or right of way, so as to avoid the associated obligations.   

Telcos are subject to various regulatory obligations such as security, quality of service, subscriber verification, anti-spam, strict compliance required under unified license provisions instructions, various audits, etc, while OTTs are not, which seriously dents the level playing field in the market. 

Carriers also pay exorbitant levies and taxes in terms of license fee, spectrum usage charge, goods and services taxbut OTT communication service providers, who are enjoying huge direct/indirect benefits and revenues by utilizing the telcos' networks, are not subjected to such taxes and levies, thus causing loss to the government exchequer.  

"This is further justified by the fact that OTT Players consume humongous amounts of bandwidth, which puts tremendous pressure on the network infrastructure established by the TSPs. At the same time OTT players gain massive direct/indirect benefits without incurring any additional costs. Thus it would be all the more fitting that they contribute towards the cost of this infrastructure development, which is presently borne by the TSPs alone," COAI said. 

COAI added that all OTT players, communication and non-communication providers, should meet the requirements of national security and consumer rights.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gulveen Aulakh
Gulveen Aulakh is Senior Assistant Editor at Mint, serving dual roles covering the disinvestment landscape out of New Delhi, and the telecom & IT sectors as part of the corporate bureau. She had been tracking several government ministries for the last ten years in her previous stint at The Economic Times. An IIM Calcutta alumnus, Gulveen is fluent in French, a keen learner of new languages and avid foodie.
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