The Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT) committe, which was set up to look into the net neutrality issue, has suggested that there is a need to set tariff and regulation on the free domestic voice calling services provided by messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype.
The DoT Committee has released the full report on net neutrality, making several recommendations and suggesting some changes to deal with the revenue loses Internet service provider (ISP) and Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) are suffering.
The report said that the free voice calling services being provided by the OTT (over-the-top) service providers is disrupting existing TSPs. In view of this, it has suggested benchmarking tariff and regulation for the OTTs, in line with that of the TSPs, for domestic calling.
The same is, however, not applicable to international calling services provided by OTTs as the panel said a liberal approach can be taken for international calling services.
The suggestion, if taken into consideration by the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), is likely to the end free voice calling services or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) on WhatsApp, Skype and other OTTs.
The panel said their suggested move can be determined after public consultations and recommendation from TRAI.
“In case of OTT VoIP international calling services, a liberal approach may be adopted. However, in case of domestic calls (local and national), communication services by TSPs and OTT communication services may be treated similarly from a regulatory angle for the present. The nature of regulatory similarity, the calibration of regulatory response and its phasing can be appropriately determined after public consultations and TRAI’s recommendations to this effect,” the report said.
The OTTs have, however, claimed that their VoIP call service has rather helped TSPs in generating revenues.
“In the view of OTT players, VoIP has hardly impacted the voice revenues of TSPs/ISPs as the proportion of VoIP calls is very less. Moreover, OTT services have helped to increase the consumption of data by end users, which in turn is increasing the revenues of TSPs/ISPs, which is actually benefitting them,” the report said.
“TSPs/ISPs pay 30 percent of revenue to the government. OTT players provide similar services but pay nothing. It is a loss to the Government,” the report added.
On Net Neutrality
The Committee further recommended that the government must determine the rules that needs to be implemented conforming with the principles of net neutrality. It, however, added that the stakeholders and consumers must be consulted before deciding the rules.
“The Committee recommends that user rights on the Internet need to be ensured so that TSPs/ISPs do not restrict the ability of the user to send, receive, display, use, post any legal content, application or service on the Internet, or restrict any kind of lawful Internet activity. The arbiter of what constitutes legality in relation to the content, application or service can only be determined by the government with scope for judicial adjudication in case of any dispute,” the panel report said.
“Besides the operators and OTT players, consumers and civil society have equal stake in how the Internet is run. Therefore, the government and the regulator obviously have responsibility to consult the stakeholders before arriving at any policy formulation on an important issue like net neutrality,” the report said.
“It is also necessary for the regulator/government to lay down rules for disclosure and also for what practices can be allowed/disallowed, keeping in view the principles of net neutrality,” it added.