Licences for OTT services will hamper India’s digital revolution
SummaryRequiring licences for over-the-top services would do the country’s digital revolution a big disservice
India is a paradox, a developing country with rich ambitions. It is an incredibly diverse country-subcontinent, with 19,500 languages spoken by its 1.4 billion people, about a fifth of the world’s population. It has among the most billionaires in the world, but only 4% of its population pays tax. About 45 million subsist in poverty. It is a tech powerhouse, but most people have never seen a computer in their life. What India does consistently well, however, is that it leapfrogs technologies. Three decades ago, only 5% of its population had a phone; it overtook fixed-line telephony with 1.3 billion mobile phones today. Rather than on PCs, India accesses the world on its 600 million smartphones and internet-enabled feature phones. India has led the world in using this infrastructure to provide ‘digitization at population scale’, with universal identity (Aadhaar), universal payments (UPI), and soon universal banking, healthcare access and e-commerce on top of what is called the ‘India Stack’. This has revolutionized society by integrating mobile, identity, and bank accounts to provide frictionless, ultra-low cost services to a billion plus people. Over-the-top (OTT) services on this internet infrastructure have provided universal access to payments, communication, government subsidies, banking, entertainment and everything else that the internet can offer. It has spurred unprecedented innovation, especially by small and medium businesses and startups, to make India one of the tech startup capitals of the world.