In this report, we outline what industry bodies Association of Competitive Telecom Operators (ACTO), ISPAI and cable/broadband provider Hathway said about TRAI’s public consultation on the regulation of OTT services. OTT Service Providers are abbreviated to only OTTs in the report. Some of these points have been edited and paraphrased.
Q.1 Which service(s) when provided by the OTT service provider(s) should be regarded as the same or like service(s)being provided by the TSPs. Please list all such OTTservices with descriptions comparing it with services being provided by TSPs.
- OTT services can be defined as communications and content delivery services and applications that end users access using their own internet connections.
- The list of same or similar services as being provided by TSPs and OTTs may be prepared today, and it will not be valid tomorrow. Preparing a list in this regard will be a futile exercise.
Hathway: No Comment
- OTT providers directly interconnecting with ISPs and other non-ISP entities and providing them with access to Internet based content is equivalent to the OTT playing the role of a backbone ISP albeit without the necessary licenses of ISP, ILD & Gateway Approval.
- The existing regulatory framework does not allow for such direct interconnections between OTT, Indian ISP, foreign telecom operators and other non-telecom entities which bypass the licensing and taxation regimes of the country and posing threat to national security as well.
- Such interconnection / internet peering services are comparable to internet access service provided by ISP licensed service providers in India.
- The legality of such arrangements by such OTTs needs to be examined as this may result in some traffic going unmonitored and pilferage of revenue to exchequer
- Some OTT players have started announcing network connectivity service offerings in selected markets. These services are similar in nature, as provided by TSPs in India for connecting a customer’s location to OTTs Data Center locations
Q.2 Should substitutability be treated as the primary criterion for comparison of regulatory or licensing norms applicable to TSPs and OTT service providers? Please suggest factors or aspects, with justification, which should be considered to identify and discover the extent of substitutability.
- Substitutability is not a productive criterion with which to compare the regulatory frameworks
- OTT voice services are not a natural substitute of traditional voice services, and similarly instant messaging services are not a natural substitute of SMS.
- substitutability should be treated as one of the primary criterion for comparison of regulatory or licensing norms applicable to TSPs and OTT service providers
- Currently, none of the OTT services require to fulfil a pre-licensing condition nor are regulated in the manner that “Service Providers” including TSPs are mandated to follow.
- Substitution should be treated as primary criterion. In the interest of the level playing field it would be appropriate that the principle of ‘same services – same rules’ should be applied.
- This can be achieved by either bringing the OTT players under the regulatory and taxation regime as for TSPs or removing the regulatory and taxation regime to bring TSPs at par with the OTT players offering similar services.
Q.3 Whether regulatory or licensing imbalance is impacting infusion of investments in the telecom networks especially required from time to time for network capacity expansions and technology upgradations? If yes, how OTT service providers may participate in infusing investment in the telecom networks? Please justify your answer with reasons.
- Asymmetric regulation of telecom licensees and OTT providers can harm consumers by keeping telecom providers from competing vigorously
- There is a critical need to amend existing license terms and conditions and regulations to bring regulatory parity to the treatment of service offerings of OTTs and TSPs.
- Instead of bringing OTT players under licensing regime, the regulatory and licensing regime of licensed service providers be relaxed for level playing field by allowing similar services to TSPs as that of OTT on same conditions.
- TRAI should permit PSTN and mobile telecom network operators to offer their own OTT applications without subjecting them to legacy telecom regulations.
- The TRAI should support the removal of present restrictions on the provision of Internet Telephony Services to (and from) the PSTN and PLMN by ISPs within India.
- Currently, the TSPs/ISPs and other content providers are being strictly regulated which has a direct impact on the revenues earned.
- It is suggested that OTT service providers should be required to pay a distribution fee to the TSPs based on data usage.
- Since OTT providers services are leading to high usage of data, may be a commercialization of volumes can help in more revenues for TSPs. OTTs cannot raise investment but above specific volumes of usage (which can be defined for top 100 OTT providers), they should be charged by operators to access.
- A standard charge should be formulated by Government / DOT which can be collected by TSP from OTT providers.
- The OTT players wanting to provide services be mandated to have offices in India, maintain Indian customer data in India, provide financials of India operations to concerned CCA and pay taxes equally as TSP’s for similar services.
Q.4 Would inter-operability among OTT services and inter-operability of their services with TSPs services promote competition and benefit the users? What measures may be taken, if any, to promote such competition? Please justify your answer with reasons.
- Such interoperability should not be a regulatory mandate. Instead, the regulator should remove the artificial restrictions in the license conditions for IP-PSTN switching.
- The relationship between OTT service provders and the TSPs / ISPs / other OTT Service providers should have defined criteria. Any TSP/ISP / OTT service provider should be able to offer the services of any OTT service provider on a non-discriminatory basis, if they meet the defined criteria.
- Inter-operability among OTT services will increase the bandwidth consumption further as users will have the access to more OTT contents and they can view more contents subscribing to single OTT services
Q.5 Are there issues related to lawful interception of OTT communication that are required to be resolved in the interest of national security or any other safeguards that need to be instituted? Should the responsibilities of OTT service providers and TSPs be separated? Please provide suggestions with justifications.
- Government and law enforcement officials in India and worldwide should be discouraged from seeking ad hoc access to communication and security technologies to facilitate surveillance and interception operations beyond that which is permitted under the law.
- Interception of all data traffic is already happening at international landing stations and does not require additional intervention from the regulator.
- Strong encryption policies by OTT service providers and its social benefits must be weighed against the perceived costs to law enforcement access.
- The responsibility to decrypt traffic encrypted by OTT applications running on TSPs’ networks should not be shouldered by the TSPs alone
- OTTs providing services within India should be mandatorily registered in India. In addition, the operating systems i.e. Android, iOS and Windows, etc. should also mandatorily have registrations in India.
- In the event of any national security concerns these operating systems shall be easily accessible by our government.
- Yes, lawful interception of OTT service providers should also be held equally responsible for issues relating national security
- TSPs/ISPs operators are required to follow certain rules and regulations as per their license but OTT providers have no compliance requirements. Not only nil/ no taxation but there is no real policy to govern their operations in India and there is no level playing field on this Section 4 at all.
Q.6 Should there be provisions for emergency services to be made accessible via OTT platforms at par with the requirements prescribed for telecom service providers? Please provide suggestions with justification.
- OTT services are provisioned in Close User Group. To provide emergency services, it is required to route the call/message to the nearest authority like fire department, police, hospitals etc. Towards this, the first bottleneck in India is full fledged IP-PSTN connectivity is not permitted.
- With the current available infrastructure, it is not possible to maintain the same positioning and routing information for emergency calls. It requires an improved local and centralized in country infrastructure. Moreover, OTT services are not provided from a fixed location.
- Until the industry has developed this technical capability, ACTO considers that emergency number dialing facilities should not be mandated for Internet Telephony services to business customers
- Additional permissions from user may be taken at the time of installation of the App in the interest of public safety
- Emergency service platform should be there for OTT providers especially in messaging, calling and other direct communications models.
- It will help users and also add another layer of security as young generations are more familiar with OTT apps but in that case TSP/ISPs also need to provide free access to those services.
Q.7 Is there an issue of non-level playing field between OTT providers and TSPs providing same or similar services? In case the answer is yes, should any regulatory or licensing norms be made applicable to OTT service providers to make it a level playing field? List all such regulation(s) and license(s), with justifications.
ACTO: Answer to Q7 and Q8 below.
- OTT providers offer similar services without attached licensing obligations, conditions and levies (such as licence fee)
- TSP/ISP operators also have to abide by stringent service quality benchmarks and invest in networks and infrastructure.
Q.8 In case, any regulation or licensing condition is suggested to made applicable to OTT service providers in response to Q.7 then whether such regulations or licensing conditions are required to be reviewed or redefined in context of OTT services or these may be applicable in the present form itself? If review or redefinition is suggested, then propose or suggest the changes needed with justifications.
ACTO (in response to Q7 and Q8)
- ACTO does not support any additional regulation. Imbalance can be addressed in many ways without additional regulation.
- To the extent that TSPs offer OTT services, they should not be subject to regulations that were not otherwise applied to stand-alone OTT providers.
Hathway: No comment
- To maintain a level playing field and national security requirements, OTT players need to be brought on the same regulation and licensing conditions for similar services.
Q.9 Are there any other issues that you would like to bring to the attention of the Authority?
- To the extent any regulation of OTT services is considered, we encourage TRAI to evaluate the differences between business customers, who raise different economic and safety policy considerations, from individual consumers.
- Internet Telephony services to business customers should be placed in a separate service category and exempted from these requirements
- It encourages TRAI to support the deployment of OTT services to business customers, and the widespread benefits to the Indian economy likely to result from such deployment, by forbearing from the application of traditional public voice regulation to these services with respect to requirements relating to emergency service access and service quality.
- Privacy: Privacy legislation should establish a consistent framework for all companies that collect and use personal information. In a connected world where individuals use multiple devices and services from different providers, we urge the TRAI to avoid establishing policies for data management and retention that are unique to OTT services.
- TRAI also should avoid any mandated service quality levels for OTT services
- Non-Geographic Numbering: Both types of E.164 numbers should be available for allocation to all Internet Telephony providers, including ISPs, UASPs and CMSPs. New non-geographic number ranges for Internet Telephony services should also be made available, if Internet Telephony services are not constrained only to a non-geographic number range.
- TRAI should issue a wider consultation paper with regard to other OTT services as well, more particularly those providing visual content and their effect vis-à-vis Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs).
- Various Broadcasters/ third parties have launched their OTT applications wherein they are providing linear transmission of Satellite TV channels of various Broadcasters, in clear violation of the downlinking license/ permission.
- OTT Applications are being made available directly to consumer(s) either for free or at a much lower price than what is being demanded from DPOs. This is creating a non-level playing field between the OTT Applications and DPOs.
- Broadcasters through their OTT Applications are providing linear channels as well as on demand content of their pay channels either for free or for a negligible subscription amount.
- Customers are no longer keen to subscribe to services from DPOs, as the OTT Applications are a better value proposition and DPOs cannot compete with the OTT Applications as the pricing of individual channels is left to the discretion of the Broadcaster.
- It needs to be clarified whether IPTV and OTT are two separate platforms or an extension of the other.
- OTTs must follow the present tariff order while providing LIVE channels SD or HD else it would be kind of discriminatory approach for distribution of same content via different platform.
- OTT content now is widely consumed via smart TV and smart STB, similar type of content regulation like parental control / censorship rule which are applicable for LIVE TV channel transmission through cable DTH and HITS platform should be made applicable for OTT content as well.