OTT players rue telecom draft Bill, worry that it may kill innovation

Draft telecommunication Bill has once again created a deep divide between telecom operators (telcos) and over-the-top (OTT) players over the move to bring the latter under a licensing framework. Such a deep divide between the two sides was last visible in 2015 over the issue of net neutrality when the telcos had felt that they were losing revenues on account of OTT players providing calling and messaging services but not paying any regulatory levies.

While no OTT player has spoken on record, Broadband India Forum, the association of technology players, which has members like Facebook, Microsoft and Intel, among others, has voiced a strong protest over the proposal to bring OTTs under licensing framework in the new Bill. “Some of the provisions of the draft Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022, unfortunately appear to be prohibitive rather than facilitating/enabling for the larger digital ecosystem in the country,” BIF President T V Ramachandran has said in a statement.

A majority of the OTT communication services ecosystem is being developed by a number of startups, SMEs, members from academia and professionals. “Subjecting such services to licensing could harm the nascent startups ecosystem, leading to constricting the PM’s flagship mission of Startup India,” BIF adds.

It has said that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had conducted a detailed consultation on the subject matter over four years and come to the conclusion based on holistic feedback from all stakeholders and international best practices that OTT communication services should not be regulated or licensed.

In its preliminary comments, Cellular Operators Association of India has said: “In keeping with the recent trend of reformative policy-making by the government, this draft Indian telecommunication Bill is another milestone step to develop a modern and future-ready legal framework in telecommunication.”

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