Internet-based communication platforms can pay directly to telecom operators for using their networks and providing similar services, the telecom operators’ body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has told the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). In its comments to the DoT on the draft telecom Bill, COAI said that such platforms should be clearly defined in the Bill.
The Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, released in September proposes regulating communication services including voice, video, and data offered by over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Whatsapp as telecom services, requiring them to obtain a licence from the government just like other telecom operators.
COAI, which represents all three telcos in the country, said that OTT platforms can pay operators “in a fair and equitable manner” and pay them an equivalent of “interconnect charge” for the traffic carried by these platforms on telecom operators’ networks. The industry body said that such a contribution could be based on criteria like volume of traffic, turnover threshold, number of users etc. Interconnect charge is the cost that a mobile operator pays to another operator for carrying through or terminating a call.
As per preliminary calculations by COAI, telcos’ adjusted gross revenue (AGR) can rise by around Rs 800 crore annually if the OTT’s start compensating them. COAI is also working on a possible revenue sharing model with OTTs. Since telcos will receive revenue from OTT platforms, they would automatically be paying licence fees to the government on an incremental basis, COAI said.
Meanwhile, industry bodies representing top tech firms including Apple, Meta, Amazon and Google have urged the government to exclude internet-based communication services from the Bill, arguing that it is in contradiction with global standards.
The “overbroad” definition of telecommunication services in the proposed telecom Bill could “have a negative impact on India’s digital ecosystem,” BSA -The Software Alliance, said in its submission to the DoT. The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), another industry group, has told the DoT that terms such as “internet-based communication services” and “interpersonal communication services” that are part of telecom services under the proposed Bill have not been defined clearly, which “can lead to regulatory overlap and ambiguity”.
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