On Friday-the last day for submitting responses to TRAI's consultation paper on Net Neutrality -Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) members appeared in full force to suggest Over-The-Top (OTT) players such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype must be subjected to the same licensing, regulatory obligations, taxation and pricing restrictions that telcos face.
Only, they didn't say it in as many words. Instead, they shyly coined a new phrase "same service, same rules" to drive home the point.
In fact, Himanshu Kapania, Managing Director of Idea Cellular, went on to explain, "It is not industry's endeavour to ask for licences. It is the role of the government. For us, the only thing we are asking for is [all] communication services should have the same rules. The industry is not asking for any licences for applications and innovations," he said.
COAI's Vice Chairman Gopal Vittal also pitched in saying, "We love the OTT world because OTTs are the reason for our Internet business. The growth of mobile Internet is the growth of the future."
"Do we want licensing for OTT? Far from it. All we are saying is that when it comes to communication services, which are basic voice services, there must be same rules," added Vittal.
Vittal said that OTTs must be subject to same rules because the arbitrage that they get for not being subjected to same rules (as telecom operators are) would result in a situation where telecom infrastructure will be jeopardised.
Vittal said that the industry has spent Rs 7.5 lakh crore in the past 20 years to take voice and mobile services to over 950 million people across 5.5 lakh villages. Over the next five years, the industry needs to invest close to Rs 5 lakh crore.
"We believe that the same service, and specifically communication service, must be subjected to same rules. As an industry, we are subjected to a whole set of rules. We want a level-playing field," Vittal added.
Vittal further said that the cumulative debt of the industry stands at 3 lakh crore. "Our return on investment is just one per cent. We have to contribute to rural infrastructure through contributing to rural development fund. We have to contribute to licence fees which run into 15-16 per cent. We have to contribute the national security obligations to prevent misuse and terrorist attacks. The only thing we need is that we must have same rules for same services," he said.