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Demand for a reasonable ‘usage fee’ from OTT players towards network use is ‘fair’: COAI

Telecom industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on Monday said the demand of telecom operators for a reasonable ‘usage fee’ from over-the-top (OTT) communication service providers towards network use is “fair and rational” and would drive the digital infrastructure while contributing to the economy.

The development comes after Internet and Mobile Association of India’s (IAMAI) recently alleged that the telecom industry’s demand for revenue sharing by OTTs for using communications infrastructure is “a covert attempt” to dilute net neutrality in India and will sound a “death knell” for digital ecosystem.

Violating net neutrality

IAMAI said that demand for ‘revenue share’ was an underhanded attempt to violate net neutrality, to which COAI said it is “misleading” to state that net neutrality principles will be violated.

“Certain entities with vested interests are misdirecting the issue of the need for a regulatory framework for the communication OTTs and the need of usage charge to be paid by OTTs to the telecom service providers (TSPs), by bringing in the aspect of net neutrality in a misleading manner, to make it a populist issue. We reiterate that all our member TSPs are committed to follow the Net Neutrality principles as per their licensing conditions,” SP Kochhar, Director General, COAI, said.

There seems to be lack of appreciation of the fact that net neutrality pertains to non-discriminatory treatment of content which has no nexus to the usage fee issue. TSPs are committed to follow the net neutrality principles, as per their licence conditions, as also all other regulatory and security compliances which the TSPs undertake to safeguard consumer interest and security – which OTTs presently do not, he said.

Therefore, the proposed usage charge is to justly meet the funding requirements for creating a robust telecom infrastructure in India, increased revenue for the exchequer, and continued innovation, as is the need of the hour for India’s growing digital ecosystem, Kochhar said.

He further said that “it has been proposed that OTT communication services pay a network usage charge to the concerned TSP in a fair and equitable manner for the actual traffic carried by these OTTs on TSPs’ network based on measurable usage. This usage charge will contribute towards the development, maintenance and upgradation of the network infrastructure.”

“It is ironical that representatives of entities profiting themselves by levying charges on subscribers while riding free on the telcos’ network, are stating that paying for usage would effectively raise costs for users,” he added.

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