Trai explores regulation for WhatsApp, Google Duo like apps

New Delhi: Telecom regulator Trai on Monday launched a consultation to explore the regulatory framework for over-the-top apps like WhatsApp, Facebook and Google Duo that provide calling and messaging services similar to that by operators.
The Trai has sought public opinion on whether same rules should be applied on OTT applications providing calling and instant messaging services as applied on telecom operators.

This has been a long-pending demand of telecom operators. Players like WhatsApp and Facebook have come under the scrutiny of policymakers over issues like data breach and fake news, and the Trai’s latest move is expected to increase pressure on such platforms. “…the Authority has chosen in this consultation to focus only on regulatory issues and economic concerns pertaining to such OTT services as can be regarded the same or similar to the services provided by TSPs,” Trai said.

Sources said that the new consultation paper would impact players like WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and Hike, and may also extend to new offerings by Facebook and Twitter. It would, however not be applicable to video aggregation sites, they said.
Emails sent to Skype, Whatsapp and Hike remained unanswered. The IT Ministry is in the process of putting in place guidelines for social media platforms like Whatsapp that have come under fire for circulation of fake news.

However, officials from both Trai as well as IT Ministry insisted that the two initiatives are separate, given that the Ministry is focusing on specific content and data element, and the telecom regulator on the licensing and regulatory aspects of OTT services. The debate on imposing regulation on OTT players started with the issue of high price arbitrage between tariff that telecom operators charged from their consumers versus free calling and messaging services from OTT players.

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