Over-the-top (OTT) services providers should not be subject to a fresh set of regulations as their services are "not comparable" to that provided by telecom operators, Broadband India Forum President T V Ramachandran said Monday. Telecom service providers enjoy "specific rights and privileges" including interference-free spectrum and interconnection, none of which is available to OTT players, and hence the two services cannot be compared, Ramachandran said. Any move, therefore, to impose new regulations on OTT players would only end up curtailing innovation, he added.
"I would recommend the continuance of status quo as far as OTTs are concerned and, concurrently, I would recommend a reduction of levies for telcos," Ramachandran told PTI.
The comments of BIF, which counts Google and Facebook among its members, come at a time when the telecom regulator has set the ball rolling on exploring a regulatory framework for over-the-top apps that provide calling and messaging services similar to that by operators.
Put simply, OTT refers to applications and services that are accessible over the Internet and ride on an operator's network. Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Hike are some examples of popular and widely-used OTT services.
The sector regulator's freshly-minted consultation paper seeks public opinion on whether the same rules should be prescribed for OTT applications like WhatsApp, Facebook and Google Duo, as are applicable to telecom operators. "Telcos have got four special rights and privileges which are not available to OTTs. These include the right of way, interconnection, numbering and interference-free spectrum. Telecom operators are carriers with their basket of rights and services," Ramachandran said.
Arguing that telcos and OTT players are "not comparable", he said that putting OTTs within a new regulatory framework will "curb innovation".
"The reason for the success of OTT is because it is giving value to end customer with tremendous innovation....OTTs have added billions to the productivity of businesses and enhanced quality of life...Any regulation will curb innovation, and the country afford to do so," he said adding that BIF will actively participate in the consultation process which is currently underway.
Broadband India Forum (BIF) positions itself as a policy forum and think-tank that works for the development and enhancement of the entire ecosystem to deliver broadband across the country. Last week, industry body COAI had advocated a "level- playing field" between telecom operators and over-the-top players and said the regulator had raised "appropriate" issues in the latest discussion paper exploring a fresh framework for such service providers.
Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) had said that it favours "light-touch regulation", but asserted that stipulations and requirements that are framed should be "equally applied to everyone who plays in the same field".