NEW DELHI: Reliance Jio Infocomm has called for a regulatory framework for voice and messaging apps which will ensure that the likes of WhatsApp comply with all security guidelines that mobile phone operators need to follow, thus supporting key proposals of rivals like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea.
In its submission to the sector regulator's consultation paper on net neutrality, the Mukesh Ambani-owned telco said national security as well as the consumer's security, safety and privacy cannot be compromised at any cost.
Most of the over-the-top (OTT) providers offering communication services "have their servers outside the country, which leaves Indian security agencies powerless to exercise their right," Jio said. "By way of registration/authorisation, government may mandate OTT providers providing communication services to put their servers in India and comply with other security guidelines," it said. "We are not proposing any kind of commercial charges on the OTT communication services". Jio has recently launched a messaging and calling app Jio Chat and is in the process of launching full blown 4G telecom services.
Bharti -Flipkart Deal
The Trai consultation paper coincides with recent plans of telcos such as Bharti Airtel to offer some apps for free to their users. While telcos argue that they are not giving preferential treatment to any app or service, critics point out that the companies are paying telcos for providing apps free to customers. This, in turn, puts app makers who don't enter into such arrangements with telcos at a disadvantage as it discourages customers from accessing these apps, hence violating the principle of net neutrality.
An uproar on social media forced Flipkart to pull out of discussions it was having with Airtel to partner in what is called Airtel Zero, under which Airtel users would have been able to access Flipkart.com for free, with the e-commerce major paying the telco for data consumed by users. An online campaign in response to the consultation paper on regulating OTT services has seen over 10 lakh emails backing a free Internet being sent to Trai apart from nearly two lakh netizens signing an online petition.
In its letter to Trai, Jio gave the example of the revelations of Edward Snowden " a contractor with US Nation Security Agency who revealed details of the US surveillance programme " to highlight the security concerns regarding apps which provide voice and messaging services, such as the ones provided by the likes of Skype and WhatsApp.
It also backed other operators while saying that this is the right time to put in place a regulatory framework, especially for communication apps. "India's OTT landscape is still taking shape and we believe that for increasing broadband penetration and growth of OTT services to ensure greater good to the common public, it is the right time to put in place an appropriate regulatory framework," Jio said.
Impact of OTT
Jio, however, differed with the telcos on the issue of revenue impact from OTT communication providers, saying the impact on the traditional revenue streams of telecom service providers (TSPs) in the ongoing debate on net neutrality wasn't important due to the competition that exists in India.
Operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular have argued for the voice and messaging apps to be brought under some regulation " similar to rules governing telcos " which would involve some payments to the government, thus forcing the app providers to charge users for their till now free services, and taking away the price advantage.
While messaging revenue of telcos have fallen due to the popularity of free messaging apps, "these OTT services have led to increased demand for data services and therefore TSPs revenue from data services has increased correspondingly," Jio said.
It said that "if and when the OTT communication services start cannibalising the voice revenue of TSPs in a significant manner, the market forces may react in the form of correction of data tariffs or any other revenue streams may start," the company added.