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OTT Communication Services

  • 11 Jul 2023
  • 6 min read

For Prelims: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Over-the-top Services, Covid-19 pandemic, Universal Service Obligation Fund, Draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022, Telecom service providers.

For Mains: Current Regulatory Status of OTT Communication Services in India, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

Source: IE

Why in News?

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is revisiting its stance on regulating over-the-top (OTT) communication services, such as WhatsApp, Zoom, and Google Meet.

What are OTT Services?

  • An “over-the-top” media service is online content provider that offers streaming media as a standalone product.
    • The term is commonly applied to video-on-demand platforms, but also refers to audio streaming, messaging services, or internet-based voice calling solutions.
  • These services that rely in data usage have become increasingly popular and widely used in India, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • Monthly wireless data usage in India grew approximately 156 times from 2014 to 2022. Revenue generation has shifted from traditional voice and SMS services to data usage.

What is the Current Regulatory Status of OTT Communication Services in India?

  • As of now, there is no specific regulatory framework for OTT communication services in India. TRAI has issued several consultation papers on this issue since 2015, but has not made any final recommendations or regulations.
  • In September 2020, TRAI recommended against regulatory intervention for OTT platforms, saying that it should be left to market forces.
    • However, it also said that the sector should be monitored and intervention should be done at an “appropriate time”.
  • In 2022, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT), which is the nodal ministry for telecom policy and licensing, suggested TRAI to bring a suitable regulatory mechanism and “selective banning of OTT services”.

Why is Regulation of OTT Communication Services Important?

  • Leveling the Playing Field Between TSPs and OTT Platforms: It is important to create a fair competition between telecom service providers (TSPs) and OTT platforms.
    • TSP in India are regulated by several laws, including the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997.
    • TSPs have to follow certain rules and pay fees to the government for providing voice and SMS services.
      • They also need to meet quality standards, ensure security, and protect consumers.
    • However, OTT platforms offer similar services without facing these requirements, which gives them an advantage.
    • This unfair competition affects the revenue and profitability of TSPs and also impacts the government's revenue from the telecom sector.
  • Lawful Interception and National Security: Regulating OTT communication services is essential for national security and public order.
    • OTT platforms should be subject to lawful interception and monitoring by security agencies to prevent the spread of misinformation, incitement of violence, or facilitation of criminal activities.
    • Making OTT platforms responsible for any illegal content or activity on their platforms helps maintain a safe and secure online environment.

What does the Draft Telecommunications Bill, 2022 Focus on Regarding OTT Services?

  • The Draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022 is a proposed legislation that aims to replace three existing laws governing the telecom sector in India: the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
  • The draft law proposes including OTT communication services, such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, within the definition of telecommunication services.
    • It proposes that OTT communication services in India should acquire a license and comply with the same set of rules governing telecom players.
    • These rules encompass various aspects such as quality of service and security measures.

What is Telecom Regulatory Authority of India?

  • Legal Backing:
    • The TRAI was established on 20th February 1997 by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997.
  • Objectives of TRAI:
    • TRAI's mission is to create and nurture conditions for growth of telecommunications in the country.
    • TRAI regulates telecom services including fixation/revision of tariffs for telecom services which were earlier vested in the Central Government.
    • It also aims to provide a fair and transparent policy environment which promotes a level playing field and facilitates fair competition.
  • Headquarters:
    • The head office of the TRAI is located at New Delhi.
  • Composition of TRAI:
    • Members: The TRAI consists of a Chairperson, two whole-time members and two part-time members, all of which are appointed by the Government of India.
    • The recommendations of the TRAI are not binding upon the Central Government.
    • Tenure of Members: The Chairperson and other members shall hold their office for a term of three years or till the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
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