The Indian telecoms regulator, TRAI, is making a new attempt to regulate over-the-top (OTT) services, which are offers that users can access directly via the internet. TRAI wants to limit the role of network operators to data transmission. The agency is particularly interested in effectively blocking such services, possibly only in certain parts of the country. Specific platforms mentioned include Facebook, Google, Telegram, WhatsApp, and YouTube. India has the second-largest telecommunications market in the world with 1.2 billion subscribers.
Access Now, an organization monitoring internet freedom, reveals that India is the world leader in network blocking. In 2022 alone, India imposed 84 network blockings, more than any other country. This is the fifth consecutive year that India has topped this statistic. The reasons for the blocks vary, from outbreaks of violence to religious holidays, searches, demonstrations, and exam dates at schools. The frequent network blocks have a significant impact on the economy and reduce tax revenue. As a result, the government aims to implement more selective network blocks that minimize damage to the economy while still preventing interpersonal communication.
The Indian government is also pushing for online services to be subject to regulatory supervision, and potentially even licensing. TRAI had previously discussed the regulation of OTT providers and concluded that they should not be regulated after a public consultation in 2020. However, the government asked TRAI to reconsider its conclusion last year. In response, TRAI has launched a new public consultation, seeking input on defining OTT services, classifying OTT communication services, deciding which aspects should be regulated or licensed, and determining the extent of cooperation between OTT providers and network operators.
The final section of the public consultation focuses on censorship. TRAI wants to understand the technical challenges of blocking certain OTT services and websites in specific parts of India and how to overcome these challenges. They also question whether a detailed regulatory framework is necessary for implementing such blocks. The regulator is accepting comments on these issues via email until August 4, with responses being collected for the following two weeks.