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Telecom firms seek to levy usage charge on OTTs

The Department of Telecom proposed to define OTT players providing call and messaging services as telecom service providers (TSPs)

Telecom OTT communication platforms

The Cellular Operators Association of India has written to the government suggesting levying a “usage charge” from big internet-based calling and messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Google Duo. The telecom operators industry body said that over-the-top (OTT) communication platforms must contribute towards creating and developing digital telecom infrastructure in India in exchange for using the services, according to an Economic Times report.

Earlier, the Department of Telecom proposed to define OTT players providing call and messaging services as telecom service providers (TSPs). COAI noted that OTT players should pay the TSPs for using the telecom network for providing their OTT services to the customers in a fair and equitable manner by way of an equivalent of ‘Usage Charge’ on the basis of mutual agreement.

COAI Director General SP Kochhar in a letter to Telecom Secretary K Rajaraman last week said that charges may be limited based on usage of the network without burdening over-the-top (OTT) players in micro, small and medium enterprise segment. “There may be instances wherein the OTT players and the TSPs may not agree mutually on ‘Usage Charge’. If a mutual agreement is not reached, then an appropriate licensing and regulatory framework should be in place which governs the contribution of OTT players towards the creation of network infrastructure,” Kochhar said.

COAI said that the objective of the framework is not to discourage OTT services as indeed they generate massive traffic on the network set-up by the TSPs. However, these OTTs platforms gain massive direct and indirect benefits at the expense of telecom operators. “Therefore, we believe that these OTTs must reasonably compensate the TSPs for using the network established by the TSPs,” Kochhar said.

The letter also talked about the demand for legislation on OTT players all over the world. “The European Commission (EU) is advocating for formalizing of due legislation for OTT players to share the network investment burden of the telecom players in a proportionate manner,” it said.

“In Australia, a world-first law was passed in Feb 2022, aimed at making tech giants pay for news content on their digital platforms,” COAI said.