Trai is expected to come out with its final recommendations on net neutrality, including whether OTT players should be regulated in the next one or two months. Net neutrality means all internet traffic should be treated equally, without any discrimination in terms of speed and cost of access.
Regulations in the telecom/technology sector have not kept pace with the innovations in this space, said the official cited above. "We need to even change our regulations with the change in technology. We are working towards that as how we can have a long term view with regards to regulation and it should also not stifle the innovations in the segment."
This is line with the recommendations of an internal panel of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which recommended domestic voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls offered by WhatsApp, Skype and Viber be regulated, in line with voice calls offered by telecom operators. The panel, however, said there was no case for prescribing regulatory oversight on these firms' overall operations.
The bone of contention here is the voice calls being offered by WhatsApp, Skype and others, which telecom operators alleged is eating into their revenues. Voice calls offered by telecom companies are estimated to be 12.5 times more expensive than those through OTT services; in the case of messages, the difference is 16 times.
For a one-minute phone call, a customer is charged about 50 paise, while a one-minute call made through the internet costs four paise, according to Trai calculations. "There is regulatory arbitrage in the case of VoIP OTT services, which bypass the existing licensing and regulatory regime, disrupting the level-playing field between telecom service providers and OTT companies," says a DoT report.
"The existence of pricing arbitrage in VoIP OTT communication services requires a calibrated public policy response," it said.
Trai had issued a consultation paper on the issue when Rahul Khullar was the chairman. However, Khullar retired in mid-May before the recommendations could be finalised. The current chairman R S Sharma is in the process of finalising the views.
In January this year, DoT had constituted a six-member committee to look into net neutrality.Bharti Airtel's launch of the Airtel Zero platform on April 6 had triggered much debate, with many experts saying this was against the principles of net neutrality.
On the Airtel Zero platform, companies, including start-ups, can offer apps for free; the app maker has to pay the operator for customers' free usage and users don't have to pay any data charges.