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Can Internet Telephony Be Regulated?

Should the voice calls made using mobile-based apps like the WhatsApp, Skype, Hike, among several other applications be regulated? The telecom operators surely want this to happen at the earliest as voice still accounts for around 80 per cent of their revenue

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Should the voice calls made using mobile-based apps like the WhatsApp, Skype, Hike, among several other applications be regulated? The telecom operators surely want this to happen at the earliest as voice still accounts for around 80 per cent of their revenue. On June 23, Thursday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the regulator for telecommunications and cable television in the country asked all stakeholders to respond to its consultation paper on the same subject. In its consultation paper on internet telephony or VoIP, TRAI has raised several questions that the stakeholders should respond to by July 21.

Here are a sample of some of these questions TRAI has asked. TRAI wants to know what aspects of conventional telephony regulation should apply to internet telephony service? Should there be a licensing fees mechanism for Internet service providers if they are allowed to provide unrestricted VoIP services? Should there be mechanisms to introduce location data to VoIP calls made to emergency helpline numbers?

Earlier in the month the telecom operators had said that since these apps were providing similar services such as voice calling therefore they needed to be brought under the same regulation as carriers. "It is an undisputed fact that VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) service offered by OCSPs (OTT communication service providers) is a substitute for" services offered by telecom service providers (TSPs), Rajan Mathews, director general at GSM industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said in a letter to the telecom regulator dated June 3.

TRAI paper defines internet telephony as voice transmissions over the public internet and transmissions over managed networks is called VoIP.

TRAI said in order to encourage internet telephony services in the country, issues such as allocation of telephone numbers, interconnection, interconnection usage charges and access to emergency service need to be addressed urgently. In the paper TRAI said that internet telephony which provides low cost calling service may be the future but "still, some existing operators may be reluctant to introduce VoIP, because they already offer voice services over the PSTN(landline)/PLMN (mobile network). Perhaps understandably, they do not wish to cannibalise their higher margin services offerings."

Another issue is call termination charges, which is essentially introducing the call drop rate benchmark for VOIP as well. TRAI also wants to know if there should be a framework for introducing a numbering system for VoIP services.

The consultation follows recent dispute between private telecom operators and state-run BSNL which announced the launch of a new service that enables its customers to make local and STD calls from their landline phones in India by using a mobile application when they are abroad.

Voice over IP(VoIP) uses network resources much more efficiently than conventional telephone service, reducing the costs of providing a call (albeit with the loss of some call quality and service features) and creates opportunities for regulatory arbitrage that enable TSPs and consumers to reduce or avoid call charges, TRAI said.

Industry body COAI alleged that BSNL’s new service for making calls is in violation to licence norms.


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