COAI Supports Relocation to Bring OTT Players Under Telecom Bill’s Jurisdiction | Digireview

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) argued that there is a need to enforce the principle of ‘same service, same rules’ in the telecom industry, and came forward in support of the government’s move to over-the-top (OTT). communication service providers that fall under the telecom law.

The COAI – which has all three private telecom service providers (TSPs) Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea as members – said on Tuesday that while the adoption of new technologies and services has been welcomed by various players in the ecosystem, the legal preconditions and treatment should be made uniformly applicable for tied players.

The COAI said that OTT players consume huge amounts of bandwidth, which puts a huge strain on the network infrastructure set up by TSPs. It also stressed that OTT communication services should be defined in the draft bill to ensure that there is no ambiguity.

Released by the government last month for comments from public stakeholders, the draft extends the definition of telecommunications service to OTT players such as WhatsApp, Signal, Zoom, Skype, Google and Telegram, which make (voice or video) calling and provide messaging services.

The definition was changed after TSPs argued for years for a level playing field, as OTT communications and satellite-based services offered audio and video calling and messaging without paying for license or spectrum.

Regulatory Differences

“It has been wrongly suggested that telecom services and OTT applications do not operate on the same layer, when in fact services such as calls (voice/video), provided by the TSPs or the OTT apps, operate on the same layer, essentially running on the network layer,” according to the COAI.

The trade association added that another flawed argument was that OTTs should not be put on an equal footing with TSPs, as the latter have rights to spectrum, number sources, interconnection with PSTN and right-of-way (RoW) to set up infrastructure.

“TSPs undergo a government mandated process for allocating the right to use spectrum and number resources by making critical commitments in terms of deliverables defined by the license agreement and investing heavily in establishing networks. OTTs, on the other hand, are free from all these obligations, but enjoy all the privileges of providing the same services, without having to bear any of the legal obligations, security obligations, investments or network requirements,” the COAI said.

It said OTTs were not prevented from obtaining these privileges, but chose not to do so to circumvent the associated obligations.

The draft bill dictates that OTTs will be subject to similar rules to other telecom companies, as internet-based service providers. As a result, OTTs may need to license to operate, and as licensed entities may share revenues with the government.

“Aside from investing huge amounts in creating the network infrastructure and incurring huge operational costs in terms of meeting various regulatory compliances, TSPs also pay exorbitant fees and taxes in terms of license fee, SUC, GST, etc.” , said the COAI.

On the other hand, OTTs enjoy huge benefits by using the TSPs’ networks, but are not subject to such taxes and duties, resulting in a loss to the treasury.

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