Moneycontrol PRO
you are here: HomeNewsBusiness

Provision to regulate OTTs in Telecom Bill can dampen competition: Jason Oxman of ITI

Jason Oxman, president and CEO of the lobby group Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), says when it comes to liability for content on a platform, the instigator should be targeted and not the platform.

October 04, 2022 / 11:20 AM IST

Jason Oxman, president and CEO of the Washington-based ITI, whose members include Google, Twitter, Meta, Amazon etc., would like to see the Indian government reviewing certain provisions in the Telecom Bill that brings in new licensing requirements for over-the-top (OTT) service providers such as WhatsApp.

He said the regulation could dampen competition and innovation. India introduced a draft of the Telecommunications Bill 2022, last month.

The Bill seeks to supersede the telecom regulatory framework, which is currently based on a law that is more than 100 years old. The draft extends the definition of telecommunication services to OTT communication services, internet-based communications, internet and broadband services.

In an interview with Moneycontrol, Oxman, who was recently in India meeting ITI members of the country, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and ministry officials, said: “There are provisions related to competition… One thing we've requested the Indian government to take a fresh look at is the definition of regulated telecom companies."

Edited excerpts:

To begin with, how was your trip to India?

Absolutely well. It was a remarkable visit. I am amazed at the changes in India in just the roughly the three years since I was there last … and all for the better. And it highlights the important role the technology industry plays. In India, we have an ITI office in Delhi which has been looking after India advocacy. The IT industry is dedicated to investments in India, to serving the Indian market, and to partnering with companies in India.

A lot is happening in the Indian tech policy landscape. A new Telecom Bill has been brought in. The government will next bring in the Data Protection Bill. The Digital India Act is also on the anvil. What are your expectations from these policies?

I think the Telecom Bill is a great opportunity to update the regulatory regime that applies to broadband in India. We're very keen to participate in the consultation process. There are a number of really important things in there that just, at the initial read, seem very positive.

There are also provisions related to competition, which I think are important. One thing that we want the Indian government to take a fresh look at is the definition of regulated telecom companies.

The definition section of the Bill really captures a broad swath of new and competitive tech services that have not been traditionally included in the government's definition of telecom. New broadband companies and OTT content providers will be subject to a host of regulations that really could dampen competition and innovation by imposing new licensing requirements that require data-sharing with the government.

The other area I would mention is the Data Protection Bill. We were very pleased that the government hit the pause button on this version of the Bill in response to a lot of feedback. Knowing that the legislation is going to come back, the one area that we're really focused on in the upcoming Bill is data localisation. We are focused on ensuring that there is not a regulation that requires data localisation, but rather it should encourage the flow of data across borders.

Not just in India, but also worldwide, there has been an increase in legislation that aims to hold Big Tech, and social media platforms more accountable for what is being published on the platform. How do you see this?

What we've encouraged the Indian government to look at as part of the Digital India Act and the question of liability for online content is to focus on the behaviour, not the tool. In other words, if there is online behaviour that is harmful to consumers, target the instigator, don't target the tool or the platform.

We know that digital tools are enormously important for connecting people, for providing them access to content and information. So our concern when you target the platforms is that those platforms are actually crucial for citizens to get access to good information. So what we've suggested, as part of our advocacy around the Digital India Act, is to make sure that the internet is open and focused on -- as the Indian government has done -- open, transparent and equal rights for access to the internet.

Recently, there have been instances where the government has said that a platform cannot be the arbiter of free speech, national security etc. The government has maintained that such issues can only be decided by the laws of the land. Keeping these conflicts in context, how do you strike an equilibrium between a platform's policies and a country's laws?

Look, India is the world's largest democracy. So, certainly we understand the challenges the government face in making sure that its citizens have access to tools that can be used for good. I think when the government has a stakeholder engagement process like it does, we can figure out ways to make sure that consumers are protected while these tools are still made available.

While in India you held meetings with ITI's India members. What are the recurring themes or concerns (if any) relayed by members during these meetings?

I would say the overarching theme of the ITI discussion about India last week was about what a huge opportunity it is for the technology industry to partner with the government of India. We're very excited, given that one of the things that I endeavoured to communicate to the government of India, in the course of our conversations, is to take a broad view of the Make-in-India goals and the IT goals.

Manufacturing is incredibly important. There are also ecosystems that surround manufacturing. It's important, I think, for the Indian government to remember that there is the fab itself where a semiconductor chip is made. There is research and development that goes into it, there's packaging, there's testing, certification, design work, etc. And India's capabilities should be included as part of Make-In-India initiatives.

The second thing we discussed a lot about is India's position on the global stage when it comes to requirements for equipment. India is known for adopting a lot of India-specific testing and certification requirements across various industries, ranging from telecom to other IT equipment. Those India-specific requirements that do not allow companies to use international standards for testing and certification is an impediment to India's global competitiveness.

And the final thing I would note is that we talked a lot about how the IT goals for India have to have that physical, you know, manufacturing component, but they really need to have a digital component as well. Because the real opportunity in IT growth is data, which is as much as a physical product. So, making sure that India's regulatory approach to trade and to physical goods also carries over to digital goods and the ability to move data across borders is critical to India's success.

Aihik Sur covers tech policy, drones, space tech among other beats at Moneycontrol
first published: Oct 4, 2022 11:20 am