India’s top mobile operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm have called for voice and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype to be subject to the same type of regulations that they are required to follow.
The operators – which stressed support for net neutrality – said they want so-called over-the-top (OTT) apps to be “brought under regulations similar to the rules governing mobile operators”, which would likely involve some type of payments to the government, the Economic Times reported. This, they say, would force the app providers to start charging for their now free services.
Operators worldwide have long complained that messaging and voice apps use their networks without having to contribute to the underlying infrastructure, which reduces their incentive to invest in future network upgrades. Thus Indian operators’ recent call for a level playing field and the concept of “same service, same rules”.
The request follows reports last month the European Commission (EC) will push to ensure US internet giants are subject to the same regulatory rules as network-based incumbents.
A draft document outlining the Commission’s strategy for creating a digital single market said: “It is necessary to design a fair and future-proof regulatory environment for all services.”
An Airtel executive told the Times that if same rules are not applied, “the only way this industry can be viable is for data rates to increase up to six-fold”, which will make data services unaffordable for many.
Reliance Jio Infocomm separately called for security regulations on voice and messaging apps to be the same as the guidelines on services from mobile operators.
The company was responding to a consultation by the telecoms regulator on net neutrality, prompted by a number of firms withdrawing from a sponsored content arrangement with Airtel. Jio said national security, as well as consumer security and privacy, need to be protected equally.
Jio, however, unlike its rivals, isn’t complaining about the OTT competition impacting its traditional revenue streams because while messaging revenue has declined sharply, OTT services have driven demand for data services. Without the messaging apps, there would be much less demand for data, it said.
“If and when the OTT services start cannibalising voice revenue in a significant manner, market forces may react in the form of a correction in data tariffs or other revenue streams may start,” the Times reported the company as saying.
Meanwhile, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said its “Internet for all” campaign has received support from nearly four million mobile subscribers. COAI, along with the country’s top mobile players, launched the campaign last month to raise support for net neutrality.