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    Licensing of OTT services would be decided based on inter-ministerial consultation: Additional Secretary DoT Says

    At a symposium by The Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research (C-DEP) on May 17, when asked to clarify if OTT communication services like WhatsApp and Signal are regulated under the Telecom Act, Niraj Verma, the administrator of the Universal Services Obligation (USOF) Fund and the Additional Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), stated that the ‘licensing for over-the-top (OTT) services would be decided after consultation between a lot of different ministries including the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’.

    He previously answered another audience question about the same matter, by saying that a section of the Telecom Act of 2023 covers broadcasting, and to that extent, OTT services would fall under it.

    Why this matters:

    This clarification is important because of the ambiguity surrounding the regulation of OTT communication services. While the term “OTT” is absent from the Telecom Act, many have expressed concern that the broad definition of the term message— which includes “any sign, signal, writing, text, image, sound, video, data stream, intelligence, or information sent through telecommunication”, under the act leaves room for the inclusion of these services.

    What is happening with OTT regulation?

    When the Telecom Act was presented to the Parliament during the winter session last year, the Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw never clarified whether OTTs are included under its scope. Only after the Rajya Sabha passed the Act did the Minister announce that over-the-top (OTT) services are not covered under the Telecommunication Bill, 2023. “OTT has been regulated by the IT Act of 2000 and continues to be regulated by the IT Act,” he told the Economic Times.

    Then, in January this year, during an industry briefing on the Telecom Act, PK Singh, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) with the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) said that the exclusion of  OTT services from the Telecom Act was a conscious decision. “The government is contemplating an act to cover all such type of service providers who are beyond the mandate of the Indian Telecommunication Act,” he explained.

    These differing stances point to a disconnect within the government regarding whether and how OTT services should be regulated. Despite that, multiple sources have told MediaNama that the Communications Ministry is re-considering its position on OTT inclusion within the Telecom Act.

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    The post Licensing of OTT services would be decided based on inter-ministerial consultation: Additional Secretary DoT Says appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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