Telecom regulator TRAI will come out with its views on net neutrality by October-end and also start consultation on “residual” issues around over-the-top (OTT) applications soon, its chairman R S Sharma has said. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has already concluded open house discussions around the controversial issue of net neutrality and is in the process of drafting the recommendations.
Sharma told PTI in an interview that the regulator will frame its views on net neutrality “by October-end”. Net neutrality calls for access to internet content without any discrimination in data speed and cost, and telecom operators and internet firms have been at loggerheads over various aspects of the contentious issue.
The TRAI chief further said the regulator is preparing a consultation paper on “residual issues” with regard to OTT players like WhatsApp, Skype, Hike, among others. “On OTT, we had floated a consultation paper in early 2015. Much water has flown since then and many of the issues have been taken care of, by our efforts around differential pricing, net neutrality etc… For the residual issues of OTT, we will float a consultation paper soon,” he said.
In March 2015, Trai had initiated a discussion to analyse the implications of OTT proliferation and recommend suitable changes in the regulatory framework, if required.
That paper had touched upon aspects like whether OTT players offering communication services (voice, messaging and video call services) through applications should be brought under the licensing regime, and also had thrown up issues around net-neutrality, differential pricing and traffic management practices.
It had also sought stakeholders’ views on whether the growth of OTT impacted the traditional revenue stream of telecom operators, and if increase in data revenues of service providers was sufficient to neutralise that impact.
Sharma said that over the last two years, the telecom sector had undergone a “lot of significant changes”, and data had assumed centerstage. “A lot of regulations have also come in between… the world has gone from voice to data. So now we will cull out the residual issues which are still relevant from that (earlier) paper and take it forward… We will take up issues like regulatory imbalance,” he added.
The new OTT paper is under preparation and will be out “hopefully” in October, he added but did not comment on the specifics. An official familiar with the development said that the “residual issues” could deal with larger question around level-playing field between OTT offerings (like voice and messaging) and the services offered by licensed telecom service providers.
It may also look at issues around security practices such as data records and logs that need to be put in place for OTT players, the official added.
The term OTT refers to applications and services which are accessible over the internet and ride on operator networks offering internet access services, that is, social networks, search engines, video aggregation sites. Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Instagram and Hike are some examples of OTT services.
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