Not that this should have needed clarification, but we’re glad that it’s been said once and for all: on the confusion over whether Internet Telephony and Internet based messaging is legal in India, and whether services like Skype and Google require a license, Milind Deora, Minister of State for Communications and IT has clarified to the Indian Parliament, the following:
– “Unrestricted Internet telephony Services are permitted under the scope of Unified Access Service (UAS) in terms of the UAS Guidelines dated 14th December 2005. Similar provisions are there in Cellular Mobile Telephone Service (CMTS) and Basic Service Licence.”
This means that telecom operators can provide unrestricted Internet Telephony Services, and can connect to Public Switch Telephone Networks (PSTN), and Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN) in India.
– “Restricted Internet telephony Services [without connectivity to Public Switch Telephone Network(PSTN) / Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN) in India] are permitted under the scope of Internet Service Licence in terms of Internet Service guidelines dated 1st April 2002 and 24th August 2007.”
This means that ISPs can provide Internet telephony services, as long as they don’t terminate the call on a landline or mobile through a public switch network in India.
– “…Services like voice call, chat, messaging, video conferencing etc. offered by certain foreign websites including Google, Skype etc. are available in public domain for free use and may be accessible to users through Internet services provided by Licensed Telecom Operators. Applicable charges for Internet services are accordingly levied.”
This means that Skype, GTalk, WeChat, Viber and Whatsapp (among others) are legal because they are being provided through ISPs and telecom operators Internet services, for which consumers are being charged.
– “Telecom service providers are to provide the facility of interception of communication passing through their network as per the terms and conditions of their respective Licence Agreement and as per the terms and conditions of Indian Telegraph Act 1885 read with Rule 419 (a) of Indian Telegraph Amendment Rules, 2007.”
This means that interception services have to be provided by telecom operators for all these services, which is why the Indian government made Blackberry provide it with access to its email and messaging services. This also indicates that other encrypted communications services are likely to be targeted by the ministry for interception.
Do keep in mind that, as of now, there is no set judicial approval procedure for interception of messaging, and India doesn’t have a privacy law.
The fear here is that, given that telecom operators keep cribbing about Internet services (known as Over-The-Top or OTT services in telco-speak) are eating into their obsolete-walled-garden-dependent revenue sources like text messaging and switch based calling, that they might put pressure on governments to enforce licensing for some of these services.
What Deora has not clarified on, is why certain SIPs (Session Initiation Protocols) used for Internet Telephony been blocked by the Indian government. A list, that we retrieved via RTI here.