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Govt may set up regulatory sandbox for OTT apps

The government is planning to introduce a regulatory sandbox aimed at both existing and new over-the-top (OTT) communication apps. This initiative will enable these apps to trial innovative features within a “live but secure environment” before their full-scale deployment to the general user base.

Per the most recent version of the draft Indian Telecommunications Bill 2023, the government is set to unveil specific administrative regulations and eligibility requirements governing the inclusion of OTT communication apps like WhatsApp and Signal within these regulatory sandboxes.

A senior government official said, as per the report, that this move would facilitate the testing of features by both emerging and established companies. Through this process, these companies can solicit feedback from users and government authorities regarding features that might pose potential risks or could be prone to misuse.

“One major benefit of such an environment is that MSMEs can test their apps or services with a wider audience before the ‘day zero’ launch,” another official said, as quoted in the report.

“We will come out with specific rules. It is an innovative concept, but we want to make sure how much the government can be involved legally,” the official added.

Earlier, it was reported that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) decided not to categorise these services as telecommunications services in the forthcoming Telecom Bill.

Telecom regulator TRAI released a consultation paper on regulating OTT communication apps in the country in July. The paper broadly covers two aspects – the identification of a regulatory mechanism to cover OTT communication apps and the examination of issues related to selective banning of such apps.

In September, think tank Broadband India Forum (BIF) opposed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI’s) proposal to regulate OTT communication apps, saying they are adequately regulated under the existing IT Act, 2000, and other associated acts and rules.

The government began consultations on the process of regulating OTT communication apps last year. It also released a draft Telecommunication Bill, 2022 to replace the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires Act, 1950. Inc42

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