TRAI Extends Deadline For Counter Comments As Telcos, OTT Apps Lock Horns Over Sharing Revenues

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The regulatory body attributed the new timeline to multiple requests from industry stakeholders

Previously, the last date for submission of comments and counter comments was extended to Aug 18 and Sep 1 respectively, and again to Sep 1 and Sep 15

This comes a day after Indian startup founders openly sparred with recommendations of telcos seeking revenue-sharing agreements with OTTs

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has extended the last date to submit counter comments on the consultation paper on regulating over-the-top (OTT) communication apps to September 29.

The regulatory body has attributed the new timeline to multiple requests from industry stakeholders.

Earlier, the last date for submission of comments and counter comments was extended to August 18 and September 1, respectively. Afterwards, it was again extended to September 1 and September 15, respectively. 

“Keeping in view the request of an industry association for extension of time for submission of counter comments, it has been decided to extend the last date for submission of counter comments up to 29.09.2023,” TRAI said in an official statement. 

The counter comments have to be sent to TRAI’s advisor for network, spectrum and licensing, Akhilesh Kumar Trivedi. 

The telecom regulator released the consultation paper on regulating OTT communication apps in the country in July, which covered aspects such as the identification of a framework to regulate OTT communication apps and the examination of issues related to the selective banning of such apps.

The proposal directly impacts online messaging apps such as Meta-owned WhatsApp, Telegram and Google Meet, and experiments with lawful interception of messages by authorities. The paper also sought public feedback on a proposed collaborative framework between OTT apps and telecommunication service providers and ensuing potential issues such as net neutrality, consumer access and choice.

However, a major drama erupted after comments submitted by telecom operators were made public. While Reliance Jio pitched a framework seeking mandates for OTTs to ‘contribute’ towards network costs, Bharti Airtel called for a traffic consumption-based approach to calculate such costs. 

Vodafone Idea (Vi) also called a government-led approach for computing such charges, urging TRAI to determine ‘fair share’ contribution from large OTT players. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) also called for bringing OTT platforms under the same licensing and regulatory regime as telecom operators. 

Close on the heels of that, Zerodha cofounder Nithin Kamath and Cleartrip cofounder Hrush Bhatt took to Twitter to air their grievances, with the former saying that the destiny of India is tied to the internet remaining open, accessible, and neutral for everyone.

A draft letter, seeking support from Indian founders, also made the rounds, terming the suggestion by telcos as against principles of net neutrality. It also termed any proposed regulatory framework for revenue-sharing agreements between OTTs and telcos as discriminatory, adding that such a move would greatly harm the vision behind ‘Digital India’. 

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