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TRAI floating a discussion paper to better understand OTT services like WhatsApp

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is working on a discussion paper to better understand Over The Top services such as such as WhatsApp and Viber which the organisation cannot regulate as of now, reports The Economic Times.

The regulatory body wants to know if there are any security threats, what direction these companies will take in the future and understand the concerns of telecom operators and consumers. The discussion paper will look into  issues faced by telcos regarding usage of their bandwidth by OTT players and other internet companies without any share in revenue earned. Operators also have to spend periodically to upgrade the infrastructure to meet the growing data needs to consumers. Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal has said recently that OTT players such as WhatsApp need to be regulated as they operate outside jurisdiction.

It is worth noting that though WhatsApp may have 40-45 million users in India, it does not make much money from the market yet.

What are the security issues: As far as the government is concerned, telecom data such as messages and call records can be easily accessed with a court order, but that is not the case for Internet services. According to reports, the government was planning to ask its US counterpart to share the technology it uses to decrypt conversations happening over chat services like WhatsApp and Skype, if the companies don’t do so themselves.

Once the government has the key they can rely on monitoring systems such as CMS and Netra to grab the data.

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Telcos gripe with OTTs: The biggest issue telcos have with most of these mobile internet services is that it has killed the VAS industry that it has been milking for the past decade (ringback tones, voice SMS, job alerts). As consumers shift to more web services, telcos have a smaller role to play and are relegated to the role of a pipe than that of a service provider.

Why is this bad news for consumers: In case, TRAI thinks that telcos have a case and forces OTTs to pay, it put consumers in a tough spot. If the OTTs they use don’t pay telcos, the messages will deliver slower and videos will take longer to download. It’s not clear why telcos want a share of revenue from these services when consumers are already paying for the bandwidth. On the other hand, if TRAI believes that these services should pay telcos for the carrying data, it should also force telcos to offer those services without collecting any data charges.

TRAI had initially said that it does not want to regulate this industry, so it is not clear what made it change its view and float such as discussion paper.

Also read: On Telecom vs Internet in a post WhatsApp Voice scenario

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