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Mahesh Uppal: Bring telecom operators on par with OTT providers

Our notes from the TRAI seminar on the regulatory environment around OTT’s, essentially, regulation of Internet services in India, on Mobile. For context, read this and this. Please pardon the typos. Some parts of the talk have been paraphrased, and some points missed.

Comments by Mahesh Uppal, Telecom Consultant:

OTT services are in direct competition for players. It hurts fair competition. Consumer protection is a regulatory objective, and if you don’t provide the same level of customer support, the regulatory objective to ensure that this isn’t vulnerable to OTT. If the network traffic grows beyond the levels that people can invest properly, there is a risk to network growth. These are not services that are growing in India. There are compliance issues due to lack of jurisdiction.

It would be wrong to say that it is the regulators role to protect revenues of (telecom) players. The other part for regulators is actually to understand that they cannot escape India specific responsibilities. India’s regulators have an India specific responsibility. What does that actually mean? India’s regulators need to worry about network growth, expansion of services.

Options for regulators:
– Regulate by function, not by terminology or infrastructure used. You cant regulate on the basis of license or technology
– Harmonize rules and compliance based on the function.

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This doesn’t mean that you should increase the burden on OTT’s. You would end up hurting a very, very important segment of the broadband market. OTT’s are going to play a very important role in the coming years. You cannot increase the burden. Those rules specific to telephony and messaging will have to be the same. You’ll have to relax rules for telecom operators. Focus on regulating scarce resources, and make sure everyone has the freedom to operate in the market. Bring them on par with OTT providers.

Limit the fees, to users of scarce resources, example spectrum, rights of way. You can have a general rule, and the other is regulation by exception. Regulate by exception means that we’ll leave you alone unless you do something unacceptable. Operators are free to charge any fee, but the regulator retains the right to intervene if need be. The prices have come down, and it is beneficial to consumers. Focus on cost effective and proportional regulation. You cannot have rules disproportionate to what your objectives are. Do not blindly copy any international regulatory approaches. Those regulations came up after investments in fixed lines had been made.

Those were not as critically dependent on capacity. India’s networks are wireless. The fact that you are using wireless to expand networks, and even were they don’t to want to, these are uniquely indian problems. They can reconcile to the importance of OTT services, and there are sufficient incentives for network growth. The regulatory burden for all players is the same in the market.

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