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TRAI seeks views to regulate net-based calling, messaging apps

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Telecom regulator TRAI today started the process to prepare regulatory framework for Internet-based calling and messaging applications like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Google Talk, known as over-the-top (OTT) players.

“Worldwide, there is an ongoing debate among governments, industry and consumers regarding regulations of OTT services and Net-neutrality. In this background, TRAI today released a consultation paper on regulatory framework for OTT services,” TRAI Secretary Sudhir Gupta said in a statement.

At present, consumers get to make phone calls and send messages using Internet connection through mobile applications and their computers. They are required to pay only Internet bandwidth consumed but nothing on per call or message basis.

Telecom operators and VoIP service providers or OTT players have been at loggerheads over this issue.

Telecom operators have said that OTT players like Skype, WhatsApp, Viber etc are eating up their main  revenue without investing in networks.

On the other hand, OTT players defend themselves by demanding access to Internet or web-based services without hurdle for growth of communities and nations.

TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar had earlier indicated about starting the process to frame regulation on OTT services after Airtel earned huge criticism from public for its plan to charge separately for VoIP calls, against principles of Net-neutrality.

Under the Net-neutrality principle, telecom and Internet companies should treat all web-based services equally and there should be no differential pricing or any kind of barrier that discourages people from accessing services.

However, there is no legislation in India at present on Net-neutrality.

TRAI said that telecom service providers (TSPs) offering fixed and mobile telephony are currently being overwhelmed by online content, known as over-the-top (OTT) applications, and services.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to know if there is an economic difference in connecting various networks via a landline phone, cell phone, or a computer.

“In fact, young users find it difficult to distinguish among these three networks; from their perspective, all that
matters is connectivity,” TRAI said.

The regulator said that characteristics of OTT services are such that TSPs realise revenues solely from the increased data usage of the Internet-connected customers and do not realise any other revenues.

“On the other hand, OTT providers make use of the TSPs’ infrastructure to reach their customers… that not only makes money for them but also compete with the traditional services offered by TSPs,” TRAI said.

The regulator has sought views of people interested in the matter by April 24 and counter comments by May 8.

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