Draft Indian Telecom Invoice, 2022 | photograph credit score: Kamal Narang

The inclusion of excessive or OTT (communications providers) within the purview of the draft Indian Telecom Invoice, 2022, which was lately unveiled for public feedback, is a characteristic that has drawn a lot consideration and remark. what does this imply? And why is that this an enormous deal? Is that this a priority just for telecom and expertise corporations? Or does it have bigger implications that concern the typical citizen? Additionally, how will it have an effect on the digital ecosystem in India?

The principle rationale behind its inclusion is the precept of “identical service, identical rule”. Superficially, it appears logical that communication providers, whether or not supplied by telecom corporations or by OTTs, ought to be handled equally. Nonetheless, that is utterly flawed. Equal service signifies that as a person, I ought to be capable to substitute one for the opposite at will. However any OTT supplier, together with these offering communication providers like WhatsApp, Zoom, e-mail and so forth., can’t attain a buyer with out the intermediation and providers of a telecom service supplier. However its converse will not be true. Absence of OTT will not be a hindrance for telcos to supply their providers. OTT communication providers are functions or value-added communication providers that depend on fundamental communication providers supplied by telcos. The latter is within the area of carriage and the previous is within the area of group and functions corresponding to video communication, encryption, and so forth.

So why are telcos pushing for the inclusion of OTT communication providers throughout the new Telecom Invoice? Fairly merely, it’s the want to keep up the arbitrage that exists between voice and knowledge tariffs. In OTT providers Telco will get much less knowledge and never greater voice/SMS tariffs. That arbitration is doomed anyway and might be extinguished earlier than later. It’s now extra vital to shoot than to herald an advanced interpretation of the regulation.

Heavy-Handed Versus Gentle-Contact Regulation

In distinction, there are compelling arguments as to why OTT communication providers ought to be stored out of the purview of the Telecom Regulation regulating terrestrial carriage. OTT communication providers are already lined beneath the present IT Act and can possible stay so beneath the proposed Digital India Act. Whether or not it’s encryption, knowledge storage, interception or cooperation with regulation enforcement, OTT can and is regulated – however not licensed or pre-authorised.

So why the hue and cry if OTT communication providers are moved away from the purview of the IT Act to the Telecom Act? Merely put, the proposed Telecom Invoice and the present Telegraph Act are based mostly on the precept that the supply of telecom providers is the only real prerogative of the federal government besides the place non-public entities are permitted – learn licensed or authorised. Then again, the IT Act, which regulates using expertise, relies on the precise reverse premise: every little thing is permitted besides that which is particularly and expressly prohibited and topic to any necessary necessities being met. ought to go. An identical precept operates with respect to content material, which is regulated by the Ministry of Info and Broadcasting, Prasar Bharati and the Censor Board. It’s exactly this huge latitude in expertise/functions and supplies that permits and encourages creativity, innovation, new merchandise and enterprise capital funding.

Extra worryingly, the circulation of enterprise capital funding to OTT might be severely discouraged. It’s virtually inconceivable to distinguish an OTT communication service from another OTT platform as each OTT platform like Flipkart, Ola, MakeMyTrip includes a component of messaging. How does one differentiate between an OTT communication service supplier and another OTT platform or service that features communication providers? It’s an inconceivable job. Solely attorneys would have fun the authorized quagmire that may consequence from any such try.

What if solely the communication part of OTT is regulated? This may be equally problematic as a result of requiring a license or authorization for a component that’s an inherent a part of the platform’s exercise could be tantamount to controlling all the exercise. Licensing is a contradiction by way of innovation.

Yet one more issue is that the Telecom Invoice will solely have an effect on India-based OTT gamers. These working from overseas won’t be affected. It will severely handicap Indian service suppliers in comparison with their international rivals. Do we wish this? It’s not unintended that the particular prerogative of the federal government is proscribed to affordances that are restricted by geographical boundaries.

Regulate OTT communication providers

The underside line is that together with OTT communication service suppliers beneath the purview of the Telecom Invoice is a really flawed thought that would critically compromise the vitality, innovation and funding that characterize India’s startup ecosystem at this time. Hardly another nation has in contrast OTT communication providers to fundamental telecom providers. As a substitute, the federal government could be suggested to include no matter controls are deemed needed within the soon-to-be-introduced Digital India Act.

Rentla is the chairman of the Chandrasekhar Middle for the Digital Future, a former IT and Telecom secretary and former president of the Nationwide Affiliation of Software program and Service Firms (NASSCOM).

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