Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

Why TRAI wants to regulate WhatsApp, similar services


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: TRAI

Mains level: Regulating OTT communication services, necessity and challenges

Central Idea

  • In a surprising move, the TRAI is reconsidering its previous stance on regulating OTT communication services such as WhatsApp, Zoom, and Google Meet. Almost three years after advising against a specific regulatory framework for these services, TRAI has released a consultation paper, inviting stakeholders to provide suggestions on regulating OTT services.

What is Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)?

  • TRAI is an independent regulatory body established by the Government of India to regulate and promote telecommunications and broadcasting services in the country.
  • TRAI’s primary mandate is to ensure fair competition, protect consumer interests, and facilitate the growth and development of the telecom industry in India.
  • TRAI performs various functions to fulfill its objectives, including formulating regulations and policies, issuing licenses to telecom service providers, monitoring compliance with regulations, resolving disputes, promoting fair competition, and conducting research and analysis in the telecom sector.
  • TRAI also acts as an advisory body to the government on matters related to telecommunications and broadcasting.

What is Over-the-top (OTT)?

  • OTT refers to the delivery of audio, video, and other media content over the internet directly to users, bypassing traditional distribution channels such as cable or satellite television providers.
  • OTT communication services offer users the ability to make voice and video calls, send instant messages, and engage in group chats using internet-connected devices.
  • Examples of popular OTT services include video streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, communication apps like WhatsApp and Skype, and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Growing complexity of regulating Internet services

  • Rapid Technological Advancements: The Internet landscape is constantly evolving, with new technologies, platforms, and services emerging regularly which makes it challenging for regulators to keep up with the latest developments and their potential implications.
  • Convergence of Services: Traditionally distinct services such as telecommunications, broadcasting, and information technology are converging in the digital realm. Internet services now encompass a wide range of functionalities, including communication, entertainment, e-commerce, social networking, and more.
  • Global Nature of the Internet: The Internet transcends national boundaries, making it difficult to implement uniform regulations across jurisdictions. Different countries have varying approaches to Internet governance, privacy laws, content regulation, and data protection.
  • Privacy and Data Protection: The collection, storage, and use of personal data by Internet services have raised concerns about privacy and data protection.
  • Content Moderation and Fake News: The rise of social media and user-generated content platforms has brought forth challenges related to content moderation, misinformation, and disinformation. Regulators are grappling with issues of freedom of speech, ensuring responsible content practices, and combatting the spread of fake news and harmful content online.

Why is TRAI exploring selective banning of OTT apps?

  • Economic Ramifications: Shutting down telecommunications or the entire Internet can have significant negative consequences for a country’s economy. By exploring selective banning of OTT apps, TRAI aims to mitigate the economic ramifications while still addressing concerns related to specific apps or content.
  • Technological Challenges: Traditional methods of blocking websites or apps may face challenges when dealing with dynamic IP addresses and websites hosted on cloud servers. Advanced techniques and encryption protocols like HTTPS make it difficult for service providers to block or filter content at the individual app level. Despite these challenges, TRAI believes that it is still possible to identify and block access to specific websites or apps through network-level filtering or other innovative methods.
  • Parliament Committee Recommendation: TRAI’s exploration of selective banning of OTT apps aligns with the recommendation made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT. The committee suggested that targeted blocking of specific websites or apps could be a more effective approach compared to a blanket ban on the entire Internet.

Why it is necessary to regulate OTT communication services?

  • Consumer Protection: Regulations can help ensure consumer protection by establishing standards for privacy, data security, and user rights. OTT communication services handle vast amounts of personal data and facilitate sensitive conversations, making it crucial to have safeguards in place to protect user privacy and secure their data from unauthorized access or misuse.
  • Quality and Reliability: By establishing minimum service standards, authorities can ensure that users have consistent and reliable access to communication services, minimizing disruptions and service outages.
  • National Security: OTT communication services play a significant role in everyday communication, including personal, business, and government interactions. Ensuring national security interests may require regulatory oversight to address issues like lawful interception capabilities, preventing misuse of services for illegal activities, and maintaining the integrity of critical communications infrastructure.
  • Level Playing Field: Regulatory measures aim to create a level playing field between traditional telecom operators and OTT service providers. Regulating OTT communication services can address the perceived disparity in obligations and promote fair competition among different service providers.
  • Public Interest and Social Responsibility: OTT communication services have become integral to societal functioning, enabling education, healthcare, business communication, and more. Regulations can ensure that these services operate in the public interest and uphold social responsibilities. For example, regulations can address issues like combating misinformation, hate speech, or harmful content on these platforms.


  • TRAI’s decision to revisit its stance on regulating OTT communication services reflects the evolving dynamics of the Internet industry. The consultation paper and the draft telecom Bill highlight the need for regulatory parity and financial considerations in this sector. As stakeholders provide suggestions, it remains to be seen how TRAI will strike a balance between regulating OTT services and fostering innovation in the digital landscape

Also read:

Fake News: Addition of The Provision In Intermediary Guidelines

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch