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TRAI to host discussions in next 3 months on regulating OTT communication apps

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) reportedly plans to hold open house discussions to formulate a regulatory framework to oversee over-the-top (OTT) communication services that are not covered under the ambit of the Telecom Act, 2023.

As per Hindu Businessline, TRAI chairman Anil Kumar Lahoti said that the deliberations would commence within the next three months. He also affirmed that TRAI is dealing with OTT communications as a subject.

Lahoti also rebuffed suggestions that the passage of the Telecom Act has rendered the OTT communication consultation paper infructuous. He said that the regulator will proceed with holding the open house discussion despite the advent of the Act.

“No, it is not like that. The OTT consultation was initiated after the recommendation of a parliamentary committee, so this consultation will be completed and we will give our recommendation…which Act it becomes a part of and which Ministry, or which regulator deals with it, is a separate matter,” he said.

The telecom regulator floated its consultation paper on regulating OTT communication apps in the country in July last year. The paper sought public feedback on the identification of a regulatory mechanism to oversee such platforms and the examination of issues related to selective banning of such apps.

Elaborating further on the fate of the paper, Lahoti said, “I know, we have an ongoing consultation on OTT communication. It is just that in the last few months we are burning the midnight oil, clearing the number of references pending with us, and OTT communication is also in the line”.

For the uninitiated, the regulation of OTT apps such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram continues to be fraught with its own set of challenges. For instance, the Telecom Act states that the state can use its discretion to classify OTTs as a telecommunication service.

This is in contrast with what telecom and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said last year. He had said that OTT platforms would be kept outside the ambit of the then Bill while maintaining that such apps would continue to be regulated by the IT Act, 2000.

“Definitional ambiguity in the bill means that the DoT is not looking to regulate OTTs in the short run. However, they are keeping the option open for the future,” Vaishnaw had said while introducing the Bill.

On top of that, telecom operators have been urging the Centre to bring OTT communication apps under the definition of telecom service providers. Noting that these apps offer the same services as them, the telcos claim that OTTs operate as proxy telecom operators.

On the other hand, these app operators claim that they do not own the internet networks through which these communications are transmitted.

Amid all these, the ball is now in the IT Ministry’s court. Meanwhile, the TRAI chairman on Friday also said that the regulator will float a consultation paper on unsolicited commercial communications (UCC) next month.

“We are going to revise the regulations so that all these problems of UCC can be resolved…(we) will tighten the mechanism to clamp down on calls being made from normal 10-digit numbers and (will also address) other forms of misuse. We are working on it and (will) soon come out with a consultation paper next month,” added Lahoti.

As per him, the consumer affairs ministry is also reportedly working on the issue of tackling UCC. Inc42

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