Why is the government pushing for regulatory mechanisms for OTT services?

Source: The post is based on the article “Why is the government pushing for regulatory mechanisms for OTT services?” published in “The Hindu” on 18th September 2023.

Syllabus: GS3-Economy – infrastructure (information and communication network)

News: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is considering whether to regulate or ban certain online communication services like WhatsApp and Zoom. Telecom companies believe these services should pay for using their infrastructure, while others argue it goes against net neutrality principles.

What are the reasons for advocating the prohibition of OTT services?

Revenue Loss for Telecoms: OTT services reduce the need for traditional telecom services like voice calls and texts. For example, platforms like WhatsApp and Signal offer messaging and calls over the internet.

Free Use of Infrastructure: OTTs operate on infrastructure built by Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) without contributing to its costs. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), representing giants like Jio and Airtel, highlights that OTTs don’t contribute to the exchequer or invest in network infrastructure like TSPs do.

Licensing and Regulation: If OTT services replace licensed services, they should also follow the rules of telecom licenses. The Internet Service Providers Association of India suggests that OTTs should be governed by the same regulations as telecom services.

Control and Blocking: TSP networks can selectively block OTT services. COAI suggests that if OTTs come under licenses, this blocking becomes easier, ensuring better control over these platforms.

What are the reasons opposing the ban on OTT services?

Double Charging: The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) argues that demanding cost-sharing from OTTs means charging twice. Consumers already pay Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) for data, and additional OTT charges may raise internet usage costs.

Net Neutrality: The proposal goes against the principle of net neutrality. IAMAI emphasizes that networks should treat all transmitted information neutrally, without favoring or blocking particular sources.

Existing Regulations: The Broadband India Forum (BIF) believes OTT services are already regulated under laws like the IT Act, 2000 and Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Additional regulation is unnecessary.

Internet Freedom: The Internet Freedom Foundation expresses concern over the proposal to selectively ban OTT services, implying it could restrict free and open access to the internet for users.

Service Accessibility: IAMAI and BIF oppose any selective ban, emphasizing that OTTs play a crucial role in modern communication and should remain accessible.

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