Telcos to Push DoT, TRAI for Fair Contribution from OTTs for 5G Infrastructure in India

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Bhubaneswar: Over-the-Top (OTT) apps are the major drivers of internet data traffic for internet
service providers across the globe. The streaming of video content by users on these OTT platforms
significantly contributes to the data traffic handled by telcos, thereby imposing a heavier load on the
digital infrastructure built by communication service providers.
Inorder to overcome this issue, India’s leading telcos are preparing to once again urge the
Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to
develop a mechanism that requires over-the-top (OTT) apps, which generate significant internet
data traffic, to contribute financially towards the development of the 5G digital network
infrastructure in the country, according to an ET Report.
Telecom operators in the European Union (EU) have initiated a discussion regarding the fairness of
burdening customers with the sole responsibility of financing continuous investments in the
networks. They have proposed a fair share solution that aims to promote investments in digital
infrastructure. The Fair Share solution seeks to enhance the sustainability of network investments
and expedite their deployment and ensure that all parties are contributing their fair share. It
specifically addresses the growing demand for network capacity from major traffic originators, such
as OTT players, who benefit from the telecom operators’ digital infrastructure. A similar debate is
taking place in Brazil.
Inspired by these developments, Indian telcos are planning to bring attention to the ongoing debate
in the EU and Brazil. They will emphasise the need for OTT streaming services, who benefit most
from the telecom networks, to make a fair contribution towards building of mobile broadband
connectivity infrastructure worth billions of dollars. This call comes as costs associated with
infrastructure development and deployment continue to rise.
Indian telecom companies will highlight the ongoing international discussions initiated by the
European Commission (EC) and Brazil’s telecoms regulator, Anatel. They will emphasise the necessity
for over-the-top (OTT) platforms that generate substantial traffic on Indian telecom networks to
contribute towards the required infrastructure investments based on the principle of fair share. This
is particularly important considering that the deployment of 5G networks is expected to result in a
significant surge in data traffic, leading to even greater investments in connectivity infrastructure in
the future.
The Report quoted a senior executive from one of India’s biggest telcos expressing that a significant
global debate is currently taking place regarding fair share practices. They expressed hope that the
Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)
would consider the ongoing consultations in Europe and Brazil. They further urged the authorities to
explore methods of implementing a fair share mechanism involving major traffic originators. This
approach aims to ensure continuous investments in advanced connectivity infrastructure in India.

Telcos face significant financial challenges in bearing this burden alone. Last November, the Cellular
Operators Association of India (COAI), representing major telecom providers like Bharti Airtel,
Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio advocated for compensation from OTT apps due to their heavy usage
of telecom network infrastructure. COAI urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to
impose a light-touch licensing framework on OTTs and establish clear definitions for communication
services to eliminate any ambiguity.
However, prominent big tech players strongly opposed COAI’s stance, arguing that OTTs can’t be
brought under the purview of telecommunications. The Broadband India Forum (BIF), comprising
industry giants such as Meta, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, and TCS, among others, argued that
bringing such players to telecommunication service licensing implies granting the government
exclusive authority over the decision-making, development, and operation of OTT apps.
The Broadband India Forum (BIF) strongly criticised the proposal to subject OTTs to telecom
regulation, arguing that it would be highly impractical and detrimental to the entire app ecosystem.
BIF expressed concerns about the potential collapse of the app ecosystem, which could hinder
innovation and impede economic growth. Similarly, the Internet and Mobile Association of India
(IAMAI), representing tech players, also stressed the need to exclude content and broadcasting from
the scope of telecom regulation.
Furthermore, BIF argued that if telecom operators expected OTTs to bear the cost of network
infrastructure, they should also compensate OTTs for utilising the platforms’ infrastructure. BIF
emphasised that OTT platforms primarily develop the infrastructure supporting communication
networks, including data centres, undersea cables, content hosting centres, and content delivery
networks. Therefore, if network access charges were to be implemented, telcos should also pay
OTTs for utilising the aforementioned infrastructure . In February, IAMAI raised concerns that the
sending party network pays (SPNP) model could enable telcos to exploit internet businesses by
formalising rent-seeking practices.

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