Indian telecom companies have been quite vocal about their dislike for over-the-top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp, Viber and the likes. Last month there was a buzz around TRAI implementing fees on such apps, and a new report suggests otherwise. A report by The Economic Times states that TRAI has rejected telcos’ proposal to charge fee on popular services like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype.
Citing people related to the matter, the report says TRAI has decided not to initiate the process because it now believes that ‘operators can offset their losses through growth in data revenue’. A TRAI official told the site, “One-third of the incremental revenue of the telecom industry is coming from data services itself. As far as the voice services are concerned, there is an upswing in the realisation rates. There is no proposal for a consultation paper (on regulating companies offering free messaging and calling services).”
In April, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) disclosed to be working on discussion paper that looks at the impact of Over-The-Top (OTT) players such as messaging apps. Several telcos including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular want app providers to pay a connectivity charge to make up for the losses in revenue, since many apps replace core revenue streams such as SMSes or phone calls. Telcos are reportedly losing around Rs 5,000 crore annually because of such free apps, and the figure is expected to cross Rs 16,400 crore in the next two years.
On the other hand, OTT players have refuted the claims stating it’s against the concept of net neutrality. According to them, ‘any move to regulate and seek payment – either to the government or to the carriers – is against the concept of free Internet or net neutrality’, adds the report. The report also suggests that if TRAI forces the app makers to pay, the cost would eventually pass on to customers.
Telecom companies may cry about lost revenues, but there are plenty of opportunities for growth even in an OTT-first world. Ecosystem tie-ups such as the one Facebook signed with Airtel in Zambia for free Internet access are an option. The advent of 4G services will bring more opportunities, especially in video streaming, live events and other aspects which require data-heavy usage. In fact, as more mobile devices replace PCs, the revenue growth potential even within cellular data is quite high.