Regulating OTT apps like WhatsApp, Hike, Skype and BBM is a very unfair way to play, but Indian telecom companies clearly don’t mind letting everyone see how desperate they are at present. OTT or over-the-top services are those that use data to function, which means operators do not gain as much from them as money-spinning text messages or voice minutes.
The only big benefit companies like Reliance, Airtel, Idea, Aircel, Vodafone and others can look forward to from the rising popularity of WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and similar options is revenue from customers signing up for bigger data packages. But this does not currently make up for the losses suffered due to people abandoning SMS and voice calling over a regular network.
It’s hardly a surprise that a handful of brands covering Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular amongst others have demanded for TRAI or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to take action and ask OTT providers to pay connectivity charges to them. And to make sure authorities have enough temptation to pass such a law, these telecom operators are mentioning the possibility of getting OTT content developers to share part of their profits with the government too.
A bit of reasoning will tell you that there’s no grounds upon which a rule like this is required to be implemented. After all, network providers get their cut from subscribers signing up for bigger packages as they consume more data. It is perfectly legal to access OTT content all across India too. Telcos are only crying about it because they feel entitled to a bite of the profits when it’s technically comparable to asking for a bribe of sorts. How about countering the problem with innovative solutions and reducing data charges to sensible rates so people buy more instead?
TRAI had called together a seminar for the purpose of discussing this bone of contention just yesterday, says a post on Business Today. The idea was to work on a regulatory framework for OTT services, though it’s unlikely the body will hold them down with any major restrictions. The conference was also organized to discuss new developments in OTT and the effects of such facilities on network operators’ income. The latter group loses around Rs 5000 crores in revenue annually owing to the higher penetration of web-based communications applications.
Though several companies are being cranky about their sliding earnings and insisting that TRAI charge applications like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber a compulsory fee, the telecom body is keener to ensure security is not breached since OTT content providers can latch onto any network in India without registering themselves.