BIF says regulating OTTs like telcos will kill app ecosystem

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Broadband India Forum (BIF) says that over-the-top (OTT) communication services, broadcasting services and internet-based communication can’t be termed as telecommunication services, and any move to bring them under India’s licensing framework will wreck the app ecosystem in the country.

In its submission on the draft Telecom Bill, 2022, BIF – which represents tech companies like Google, Meta and Amazon – said that bringing OTT and broadcasting service players under the purview of the telecom service licence implies that the Indian government only holds the exclusive privileges to decide, build, develop and operate OTT apps and services.

“Such a situation is grossly anomalous, highly impractical and will lead to a collapse of the entire app ecosystem and thereby impacting innovation and growth of the economy,” BIF said in its submission.

BIF says govt definitions ‘confusing’

The body said that the definition of telecommunication service should be amended while keeping in mind that licensing should be required for telecommunication networks.

“We see a completely different licensing framework in the draft bill. It is based on a complex and confusing structure of definitions of ‘telecommunication’, ‘telecommunication services’ and ‘telecommunication network’ and introduction of separate categories of licences for ‘telecommunication services’ and ‘telecommunication network’,” BIF said in its submission.

BIF added that OTT communication services are clearly differentiated and can be distinguished from the definition of telegraph as provided in the Telegraph Act. It further said that OTTs services should be governed by the IT Act 2000 because they are information technology services.

Application layers are not telcos

Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) – which also represents another section of technology and internet companies along with startups – shared similar views in its submission to the telecom bill.

In its submission, IAMAI said that the Indian government’s definition of telecommunications services in the draft bill is “overly broad”. It added that WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram are just application layers and should not be treated in the same category as telecom service providers (TSPs).

IAMAI further said that these application layers or internet-based services cannot be considered to be owned and controlled by the central government, mostly because these services only use existing spectrum.

Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea as well as industry association Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) have pushed the government to adopt a “same service same rules” regime in the country so that OTTs that eat up huge amounts of bandwidth are regulated like telcos.

COAI said that the “same service same rule” regime would ensure a level playing field, resulting in fair and healthy competition in the industry.

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