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Revenue Share agreements Will Violate Net Neutrality: IAMAI on TRAI’s OTT regulation consultation

The TRAI consultation paper, released in July this year, explored ideas such as creating a collaborative framework between OTT and telecom services, as well as a revenue sharing mechanism between the two.

“Any “collaborative framework” which may result in establishing a revenue-sharing mechanism between OTTs and telecom service providers (TSPs) will violate the net neutrality framework notified by the Ministry of Communications in 2018,” the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said in its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s consultation on regulating online communication platforms. 

In July this year, TRAI released a consultation paper that discussed regulatory mechanisms for Over-The-Top (OTT) communication services (like WhatsApp and Telegram) and the selective banning of these services. The paper talked about creating a collaborative framework between telecom operators and online communication services. It brought up questions about revenue-sharing agreements between the two, licensing of communication apps, and the selective banning of these services during periods of unrest/crisis. 

Based on IAMAI’s press release on its submission (as reviewed by MediaNama), the association has focused more on the issue of the regulation of communication services than on the selective banning of apps. 

What does IAMAI argue?

Customers already pay for data usage: The association says that demands for communication platforms to pay telecom companies a share of their revenue is, “based on the erroneous notion that OTT service providers consume bandwidth.” IAMAI says that the proposal for a revenue share agreement disregards the fact that, “not OTT players but consumers themselves independently transact and purchase data from TSPs [telecom service providers].”

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Moreover, the association said such an agreement would mean charging for the same service twice, since consumers have already paid telecom companies for their data usage. Any pressure put on telecom companies due to the use of communication platforms, “is directly dependent on the amount of data sold by telecom companies to consumers.”  

Regulations for OTT services already exist: IAMAI says that the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 and the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 already regulate OTT communication services. As such, there was no need to bring OTT service providers under any additional licensing/regulatory frameworks. It says telecom companies have special regulations because they control spectrum and that imposing the same on OTTs would be an act of over-regulation.

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