Telcos have reiterated their demand for parity with over-the-top (OTT) players that provide communications services such as Whatsapp and Skype, saying these apps which provide similar services such as voice calling should also be brought under regulation.
“It is an undisputed fact that VoIP (voice over internet protocol) service offered by OCSPs ( OTT Communication Service Providers ) is a substitute for” services offered by telecom service providers (TSPs),” Rajan Mathews, director general at GSM industry body Cellular Operators’ Association of India ( COAI ), said in a letter to the telecom regulator dated June 3.
“OCSPs offer these services without holding any license in India, which is violative of the Indian Telegraph Act. The Licensing and Regulatory Regime cannot allow a situation wherein the licensed entity is treated at a lower footing than an unlicensed entity,” COAI said.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that communication apps offer calling services at far lower rates than carriers – mostly a consumer just pays for the data consumed – thus eating into the telcos’ revenue pie. Voice still accounts for around 80% of a telco’s revenue.
Telcos want these apps to be brought under regulation so that the apps need to pay the same levies such as license fee, spectrum charges etc besides follow rules around security, lawful interception, quality of service. This could mean the apps wouldn’t be able to offer calling and messaging services virtually for free because of the increased costs. Communication apps say any move to regulate them will stifle innovation. Besides, they say, consumers anyways pay data charges for using the OTT platform on a telco’s network.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is “also aware of the fact that cheaper voice services of OCSPs is merely the outcome of economic and regulatory arbitrage between PSTN voice telephony offered by TSPs and Internet Telephony/VoIP provided by OCSPs,” COAI said.
It noted that mobile phone operators realize only around a sixth from a data call made over the communications apps compared to what they realize from a normal voice call.
“The low data price is furthering the growth of VoIP/Internet Telephony by unlicensed OCSPs at the cost of PSTN voice telephony, thereby reducing TSPs ability to continue with the lower price of data for accessing content over the Internet,” said COAI. “Thus we believe that OCSPs should be brought within the ambit of Indian regulatory landscape.”
COAI added that Trai also needs to address the issues surrounding termination charges from calls from a communication app to a regular cellular network, but keep in mind the ongoing court cases around the issue of termination charges. Issues such as allocation of a separate number series for internet traffic, security, lawful interception, quality of service need to be sorted out before “termination of internet telephony is facilitated in PSTN/PLMN network.”