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Telecom firms say defer net neutrality rules till internet calling apps have a licensing regime

The Cellular Operators Association of India has urged the government to bring over-the-top service providers like WhatsApp and Google Duo under licensing regime and defer net neutrality rules on telecom operators till the time ‘same service same rules’ are applied on the apps.

COAI, whose members include Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel Ltd., and Vodafone Idea Ltd., wrote to the telecom department on Feb. 9 in response to the recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on over-the-top players that no regulations should be imposed on the calling and messaging apps till the time clarity emerges in the international jurisdictions.

“Till the time any decision is taken regarding licensing of OTT communication providers, the un-equitability between telecom service providers and OTTs should not be increased further in any manner. Therefore, till such time, no new licensing conditions, including that of traffic management practices for net neutrality etc., should be imposed on TSPs,” COAI said.

Telecom operators have been demanding that the government should impose ‘same service, same rules’ to provide a level playing field in the sector.

The net neutrality principles, approved by the telecom department in 2018, prohibit service providers from discriminating against internet content and services by blocking, throttling or according preferential higher speeds.

Simply put, this means that entire internet traffic should be available to everyone on equal terms without any discrimination, and service providers cannot indulge in practices such as throttling any web traffic or providing fast lanes for specific content.

COAI mentioned that telcos are required to comply with quality of service norms, audit of accounts, procure spectrum for services, pay goods and services tax, licence fees and spectrum usage charges, facilitate lawful interception and monitoring system etc but no such obligations are imposed on OTT players.

OTT players have laid emphasis on connecting more people with affordable services for economic growth and imposing a cost burden on them will discourage people from using the internet.

They have also argued that licensing and regulation on telecom operators are primarily because of installation and operation of data networks. The argument has been rejected by telecom players.

COAI said that in case the government is unable to apply similar obligations to OTT players, then the existing rules and obligations of telecom operators should be reviewed and minimised by making these proportionate to that of OTT players.

“Players providing OTT communications services should be licensed by introducing the OTT communication authorisation under the unified licence containing the obligation of TSPs for provisioning of services,” COAI said. Bloomberg

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