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Cybersecurity & Standards, Free Expression, Open Internet

Comments to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Framework for Over-The-Top Communication Services

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) thanks the TRAI for the opportunity to provide comments on the regulatory framework for over-the-top communication services. We participated in the TRAI’s previous consultations on differential pricing and net neutrality and appreciates the TRAI’s careful and deliberate consideration of the various aspects of policy associated with the regulatory landscape in India.

As network usage has expanded beyond single-purpose communications to allow the development of thousands of applications and services that rely on the ability to transmit data across those networks, including new formats for communication, the market for communication services has significantly changed. Telecommunication Service Providers (TSPs), once the only providers of communication services, now face competition in the market for those services, notably from applications and services that send communications “Over-The-Top” (OTT) of existing telecommunications infrastructure. However, TSPs remain the only providers of the network transmission services all such communication services require. In CDT’s view, this does not necessarily call for an extension of regulatory obligations for over-the-top communication services, but may result in some restructuring of the traditional TSP business model.

In any case, it is appropriate to reassess the relationships between TSPs and OTT providers, as the TRAI and DoT have done through the net neutrality consultation series, and also to address the regulatory environment in which various providers of communication services operate. In addition, CDT discusses some issues for further consideration and offers a slightly different framing the TRAI might use when considering the relationships among various providers of communication services. CDT is aware that India’s social and cultural attributes may call for a unique framework, but urges the TRAI to carefully consider the long-term implications of extending any new obligations to providers of OTT communication services, especially with regard to the risk of inhibiting an otherwise robustly competitive market for such services and the potentially detrimental effects that chilling this market may create for the overall health of India’s network-reliant economy. CDT respectfully offers the following comments in response to the TRAI’s questions.