TRAI, on Friday, issued a consultation paper on the “Regulatory Framework for OTT services”. OTT, which stands for Over-The-Top, represents services and content offered through the medium of the internet. TRAI has invited comments from stakeholders, including OTT and telecom operators, on the issue by April 24, 2015 and counter comments by May 8, 2015.
TRAI’s consultation paper covers the views of service providers and OTT providers, all related issues (including network neutrality), international experience with network neutrality and regulation of OTTs (communication and non-communications).
Some of the important issues discussed include the need for regulation and the policy and regulatory environment, current policy dispensation for OTT players as compared to TSPs (Telecom Service Providers), security concerns, consumer privacy, net neutrality, non-price based discrimination of services and transparency, the possibility of differential pricing for data access.
For example, TRAI has asked for comments on whether additional data revenue received by telecom operators due to growth of OTT services is sufficient compensation? Also, it queries whether a regulatory framework is currently required for OTT or whether it is still too early?
Meanwhile, TRAI has also highlighted the fact that OTT operators bypass most of the regulatory restrictions imposed on traditional TSPs, creating a “regulatory imbalance”. This, says TRAI, calls for need for discussion on how prevailing laws and regulations can be applied to OTT players and what could be the likely impact of the same.
The debate on regulation of OTT is important and will also have far-reaching effects on the concept of net neutrality, the ideology that services on the internet should be treated equally and be available to all without bias.
OTT have been threatening the traditional telecom operators (fixed and mobile) by offering services via their networks which in many cases compete with services offered by the telecom operator. An example of this includes IM or Instant Messaging services, which have been steadily eating into SMS revenues. In the US, Netflix is an example of an OTT operator which is threatening the paid TV (cable and DTH) model.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has been vociferous in its demand for regulation against OTT operators, claiming that they are eating into operator revenues. The matter was brought to a head recently when Bharti Airtel announced differentiated pricing for voice calls over the internet. Amidst intense flak from the user community, the company had to roll back the plan but it brought the issue of net neutrality to general attention. Interestingly, Facebook, which is one of the largest OTT service providers in the world joined COAI last year. The company is gearing up to launch voice and video calling services through WhatsApp this year.