Cloud telephony players back govt’s proposal for regulation of OTT communication apps

At a time when government proposes to regulate the OTT communication apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, the cloud telephony players believe that regulating OTT communication services is must for end-user protection and national security.

Cloud telephony means a communication service that provides businesses a cost-effective way to set up a virtual call centre using telecommunication network and internet, pushing aside the need for traditional systems like private telephone network or Electronic Private Automatic Branch Exchange (EPABX) used by the companies to manage client calls, or internal communications.

Simply put, if a customer care centre of Amazon or Flipkart were successfully able to manage multiple calls during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was through a virtual call centre which also offers features such as interactive voice response, automated call recordings, call routing etc.

Just like telecom operators, the reason behind cloud telephony players backing government’s move for OTT regulation is the demand for a level-playing field. At a time when the cloud telephony players has to get a lot of licenses to offer services, OTT communication providers, despite offering some similar services are not regulated by the government.

“The suggestion to bring internet-based and OTT communication players under the ambit of a common law is a well thought out long-term measure. It helps create a level playing field in the industry and ensures that the interest of end-users in India can actually be protected by DoT as we bring these OTT players under the ambit of Indian Telecommunication regulations,” said Gaurav Agrawal, senior vice president at Exotel.

“The government can then guide this industry via telecommunication and data protection regulation to better protect users and boost national security,” Agrawal said.

Exotel is a full-stack consumer engagement platform and offers solutions such as enterprise communication suite, Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), among other cloud telephony solutions.

“If OTT participants were also subject to licensing requirements, the services would undoubtedly be safe and secure,” said Vidhu Nautiyal, co-founder and chief revenue officer at CloudConnect Communications. The company also provides communication solutions to businesses and has recently got virtual network operator license for its services in Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

According to Nautiyal, the telecom bill will also pave way for recognition of licensed cloud telephony players in the country, “So, as per the current scenario, this (the draft telecom bill) should not be affecting the cloud telephony industry; instead, it should be an encouraging turn of events for cloud telephony players,” he said.

Apart from the level-playing field, these companies also welcome that the government’s pitch for mandatory KYC requirement for calls on OTT apps. “ KYC and lawful interception will help users in the long-run as they will be more effective tools to keep financial frauds on OTT platforms in check. The government could also bring in DLT-like measures to ensure that spam on OTT players is kept under control,” Agrawal said.

A distributed ledger technology is a blockchain solution which is currently used by the telecom companies to verify authentic senders of messages and control the spam SMS.

According to experts, many enterprise customers of cloud telephony players complain that their virtual numbers appear as spam to their customers due to which they lose the business.

Once formalised, the KYC norms will also help address the issue at a greater extent as the call receivers will know the identity of the other person. Through the telecom bill, the government has also proposed a strict penalty in case the information provided by any person during KYC found incorrect.

While telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea have also been pressing for a regulation on OTT communication apps, the same is opposed by certain industry bodies on argument that this would over-burden the OTT apps with multiple regulations. Currently, telecom companies have to buy spectrum and comply with regulations while offering voice and data services, whereas OTT players can provide free audio and video calling, thereby eating into the revenues of the telecom players.

At this stage, the key government ministries are also not aligned with regulation of OTT communication players. The government will soon conduct a stakeholders’ discussion on the draft telecom bill.

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