COAI wants OTT players to be regulated like telcos

COAI OTT level playing field
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The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has asked the government to regulate over-the-top (OTT) players such as WhatsApp and Netflix the same as telcos by introducing a “same service same rules” regime.

COAI – which represents Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – said such a regime will ensure a level playing field, resulting in fair and healthy competition in the industry.

The telecoms industry group argued that telcos have invested massive amounts in creating the network Infrastructure that OTT players use. Operators have also incurred huge operational expenses in terms of meeting various regulatory requirements, and paid exorbitant levies and taxes in terms of license fees, SUC, GST, etc.

“On the other hand, OTT communication service providers, who are enjoying huge direct/indirect benefits and revenues by utilizing the telcos’ networks, are not subjected to such taxes and levies, thus causing loss to the Government exchequer,” the COAI said in a statement.

OTTs should contribute to infrastructure

COAI pointed out that revenues from all industries should be accrued back to the government under a regulated regime and model. Consequently, “we are of the view that OTT communication service providers should be brought under the ambit of the Telecom Act, and they should contribute to the development of network infrastructure in the country.”

COAI added that it’s not just a tax or investment issue. OTT players not only gain the benefits of using telecoms infrastructure without incurring any additional costs, but also consume humongous amounts of bandwidth in the process, which puts tremendous pressure on telco network infrastructure.

“Thus it would be all the more fitting that they contribute towards the cost of this infrastructure development, which is presently borne by the telcos alone,” COAI said. “Moreover, OTT players need to invest and contribute towards the development of a robust Digital Network and Infrastructure in the country, along with meeting the critical requirements of National Security and Consumer Rights.”

The COAI also said it wasn’t fair that telcos must jump through many regulatory hoops to acquire spectrum and licenses, which come with strict conditions and deliverables in terms of investment, rollouts, coverage, network performance, etc, while OTTs are under no such obligations yet enjoy all the privileges of delivering the same services.

COAI wants a level playing field either way

The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022 covers OTT communication services. While COAI welcomed this, it urged the government to clearly define such services to avoid any possible ambiguity.

“Since OTTs and TSPs [telecom service providers] provide the same voice/video/data communication services, they operate in the same situation, and hence should not be seen as un-equals,” the organization said.

The COAI added that if the government chooses not to bring OTT players under the same strict regime, an alternative remedy would be to loosen regulatory obligations for telcos and achieve a level playing field that way.

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