Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the industry body representing telecom service providers (TSPs) such as Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone-Idea, on Tuesday, said it welcomes inclusion of over-the-top (OTT) communication services in the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, but added that the services need to be defined in the draft Telecom Bill, too.
“…in order to bring comprehensiveness and avoid any possible ambiguity, COAI is of the considered view that the OTT communication services need to be defined in the draft Telecom Bill. COAI is of the firm view that all OTT players (both communication and non-communication OTT providers) should meet the requirements of National Security and Consumer Rights,” it said in a statement.
It said that certain quarters have opined that the principle of ‘Same Service, Same Rules’ may not be applicable to OTT communication services, based on misinformed views. It has been erroneously suggested that telecom services and OTT applications do not operate on the same layer, when, in fact, services such as calls (voice/video), whether provided by TSPs or OTT apps, operate on the same layer, essentially riding on the network layer.
“Since OTTs and TSPs provide the same voice/video/data communication services, they operate in the same situation and, hence, should not be seen as un-equals.
COAI further said that apart from investing massive amounts in creating the network infrastructure and incurring huge operational expenses in terms of meeting various regulatory compliances, TSPs also pay exorbitant levies and taxes in terms of licence fee, spectrum usage charge (SUC) and GST, and on the other hand, OTT communication service providers, who enjoy huge direct/indirect benefits and revenues by utilising the TSPs’ networks, are not subjected to such taxes and levies, thus causing loss to the government exchequer.
“As applicable to all industries, such revenues gained from the Indian citizens, should be accrued back to the government under a regulated regime and model. COAI is of the view that OTT communication service providers should be brought under the ambit of the Telecom Act and they should contribute to the development of network infrastructure in the country,”it said.
COAI noted that OTT players (WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram) consume humongous amounts of bandwidth, which put tremendous pressure on the network infrastructure established by the TSPs. At the same time, OTT players gain massive direct/ indirect benefits without incurring any additional costs and therefore it would be all the more fitting that they contribute towards the cost of this infrastructure development, which is presently borne by the TSPs alone.
“Moreover, OTT players need to invest and contribute towards the development of a robust digital network and infrastructure in the country, along with meeting the critical requirements of National Security and Consumer Rights,”it added.