Ever since the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) brought out a consultation paper on “Regulatory Mechanism for OTT Communication Services, and Selective Banning of OTT Services”, there has been an aggressive debate on formulating an appropriate regulatory mechanism for over-the-top (OTT) players. Telecom operators and OTT communication service providers have been at loggerheads and submitted differing responses to the paper.

Private telcos, including Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea Limited (Vi), requested TRAI to bring OTT service providers under the unified licence regime. Jio urged the regulator to recommend that OTT players that generate maximum data traffic should contribute to network costs, which are currently being borne entirely by telcos. Airtel and Vi backed Jio, underlining the need for a holistic policy framework for fair share contribution by large OTT players towards telecom networks.

The OTT players and tech companies, however, rejected the telco claims that they were getting a free ride on network infrastructure. On the contrary, they noted, they had been contributing to the growth of telco revenues.

In a major move undertaken soon after these submissions, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has reportedly removed OTT players and applications from the definition of telecommunication services under the Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill. This move is expected to provide relief to OTT communication service providers such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, which will remain out of the sphere of telecom regulation.

While the move is contrary to TRAI’s stance, which emphasises the need to regulate OTT services, DoT’s opinion is that the current definition of telecom services under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, is good enough and there is no need to specifically add OTTs in the new bill and regulate these services.

The final outcome of the widely debated issue, however, remains to be seen as the Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, which seeks to replace the three current telecom laws and keep regulations up to speed with changing technology, is expected to be tabled in the upcoming winter session of Parliament.