At a time when the government is near united on regulating the fintech sector, given the mess that some lending apps have created in the market, reports of a lack of consensus around various ministries on whether to regulate the OTT streaming business or even instant messaging apps seems rather weird.
Published media reports suggest that both the Home Ministry and the Department of Telecom believe that regulating these platforms and the messaging apps are necessary in keeping with India’s stance on national security and public safety. However, the Ministry of Electronics and IT doesn’t think that any such regulation is required right now.
Divergent views hold back action
These were some of the views that came up as part of a consultation process taken up by the Department of Telecommunications. Reports said another nodal ministry – Information and Broadcasting – is yet to provide its views on the matter. In fact, we hear that the mandarins at the I&B ministry are not too happy with other ministries taking a role in the matter, given that they’ve always held OTT and instant messaging should exclusively be under their purview.
The Department of Telecom has meanwhile collated the views and submitted them to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Readers may recall that the TRAI had made specific recommendations around the OTT business in September 2020 where it commented that there was no need to regulate these apps and that these would be regularly reviewed.
What is causing the differences of views?
We hear that the Ministries of Home and Telecom want a regular review mechanism whereby specific platforms or apps could be questioned or pulled up around matters concerning the spread of misinformation. The mandarins are connecting data protection and consumer privacy and security to this requirement though one cannot immediately see how the two are linked.
The Telecom ministry appears to be toeing the line of the Home Ministry which believes that apps must be regulated from a national security and public safety perspective, a view that TRAI doesn’t agree with completely. Public citizens too are averse to this rule as they believe it would border on censorship of a platform, though film releases on OTT do require certification by the Central Film Censor Board, a body whose relevance has also been questioned in the past.
On its part, the folks at Telecom aren’t in favor of censorship though they argue that some form of control should be established whereby they could do real-time analyses of content so that spread of misinformation could be curtailed. On its part, the MeitY believes TRAI’s comments in 2020 were enough to ensure that such instances do not occur.
TRAI needs to step forward
As for the industry, the Cellular Operators Association (COAI) thinks the OTT must reside under the licensing regime as they offer services similar to what the mobile telephony providers do. Given the dichotomous nature of these views, we believe it would be a good idea for TRAI to open up the discussion via a consultation paper seeking comments from all stakeholders, including those who are users of these platforms and services.