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OTT backers slam TRAI’s proposed selective banning of apps

Industry bodies, civil society organizations and consumer groups have raised concerns to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India over regulation of OTT apps, specifically on the selective banning of OTT apps, as has been proposed by the regulator in its ongoing consultation.

In their submission to the TRAI, which is undertaking consultations over OTT regulation, the bodies including Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Broadband India Forum, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) and Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) comprising nearly a dozen consumer groups, have said that such apps were already regulated under the IT Act 2000 which will be replaced by the upcoming Digital India Act (DIA), hence the ongoing consultations should form part of Digital India Act and any other additional consultations by regulators like TRAI will also lead to overlap of regulatory structure.

BIF said that the current regulatory landscape has fostered a healthy app economy growth in India, marked by one of the world’s highest annual app download rates, and so any attempt to introduce new regulatory frameworks could disrupt the existing competitive landscape and compromise consumer benefits and innovation.

“We hope that the regulator and the Government will allow market forces to operate freely, incentivising growth and progress in this vital sector. TSPs can compete freely, and OTTs should not face restrictions in favour of telecom service providers,” BIF president T V Ramachandran said.

Amol Kulkarni and Shiksha Srivastava of CUTS in their submission said that if the process for selective banning was not clearly laid down, it would result in regulatory uncertainty and further overregulation. “How the OTT apps are selected, the reason behind such selection and under what scenario will the ban be implemented, are all information which should be made available to the public. This should be done by way of a written public order, which should clearly lay down the rationale of the decision,” they said.

“A licensing regime, while organised, could stifle innovation by imposing high compliance costs, thereby impeding the growth of start-ups. Given the rapid evolution of OTT services, a static regulatory regime could severely hamper progress in this dynamic field,” advocacy group The Dialogue said in its submission.

AIC flagged that mandated collaborative framework between OTT service providers and licensed telcos may lead to the creation of a system where telcos can demand compensation from OTT service providers in the form of revenue sharing or network usage fees. Telcos may also create revenue sharing exemptions for their own OTT services which can lead to concerns under both the principle of net neutrality, as well as competition law. LiveMint

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