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Harsh Walia

Harsh Walia is a Partner in the Technology, Media and Telecom Practice Group in the New Delhi office. His practice focusses on dealing with regulatory, transactional and commercial contracting aspects in the TMT sector.

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New Guidelines for Other Service Providers

The New OSP Guidelines supersede the ‘terms and conditions – Other Service Provider Category’ dated 5 August 2008 along with all its amendments (“Old OSP Guidelines”).

Introduction

On 5 November 2020, the Department of Telecommunications (“DoT”) has released New Guidelines for Other Service Providers (“New OSP Guidelines”). The New OSP Guidelines supersede the ‘terms and conditions – Other Service Provider Category’ dated 5 August 2008 along with all its amendments (“Old OSP Guidelines”). With the New OSP Guidelines, DoT has significantly altered the preceding regime. As part of this document, we have set out the key takeaways from the New OSP Guidelines for your reference. 

Key takeaways 

Applicability: The ambiguous definition of ‘Application Services’ under the Old OSP Guidelines has been done away with. The new regime is applicable only on entities that provide voice-based Business Process Outsourcing (“BPO”) services and covers companies, limited liability partnerships, partnership firms, organization registered under Shops & Establishment Act, etc. Therefore, it is possible that BPOs providing non-voice/ data-based services (which is likely to include IT support, payroll, accounting services etc.) may not be within the ambit of the New OSP Guidelines. 

Exemption from registration: Even for voice-based BPOs, no registration certificate will be required. This means that they will not have to undergo the lengthy process of obtaining registration after submitting various supporting documents, including network diagrams that are approved by TSPs. This will be a big relief for BPOs going forward. However, the New OSP Guidelines are silent on the status of existing registrations. 

Same entity may have multiple OSP centres: As was the case earlier, an OSP centre is a location in India where infrastructure for an OSP is deployed. Therefore, same entity may have multiple OSP centres.

Notable dispensations for OSPs: The following dispensations are only provided to OSPs under the New OSP Guidelines. Having said that, the New OSP Guidelines do not shed any light on the procedure to be followed for availing these dispensations and in its absence, it appears that it will be left to self-assessment by relevant entities.

  • Interconnection of PSTN with VPN (over MPLS) is permitted: In case two (2) or more OSP centres are connected through a virtual private network (“VPN”)/ leased circuit and PSTN/ PLMN traffic is collected at one of the OSP centres, then such traffic can be exchanged between other OSP centres using MPLS/ leased circuit. 
  • Interconnection of PSTN with leased line/ MPLS outside India: This dispensation was available under the previous regime as well, and this means that breakout of leased line/ MPLS to PSTN at a foreign location (Point of Presence) will be permitted. 
  • Centralised internet connectivity: An entity having multiple OSP centres may obtain internet connection at a centralised location and such internet can be accessed by other OSP centres using leased line/ MPLS VPN. This is an important exemption as it will save huge cost in obtaining multiple internet connections at each OSP centre under the earlier regime. Further, permitting such internet traffic to be carried over leased line/ MPLS VPN will guarantee better service levels. 
  • Interconnection between the remote agent and OSP: It is permitted for an agent to remotely connect to the OSP centre (for more details refer to paragraph 5 below).

New work from home requirements:

  • Work from home (“WFH”) will also include ‘work from anywhere’ (“WFA”) in India, which means there is no requirement to provide pre-defined locations from where work will be carried out, if the agent is not at the OSP centre. 
  • No bank guarantee or security deposit is required for availing this facility. 
  • The permitted connectivity between the remote agent and OSP centre has not been prescribed, but the New OSP Guidelines set out that OSP shall be responsible for any toll bypass related violation. This may lead to an inference that there is no prescribed method (e.g. PPVPN/ secured VPN) for such connectivity and therefore, it has been made technology neutral. 
  • Lastly, it must be ensured that system logs are tamper-proof and call details records (“CDR”)/ all logs of the activities carried out by the remote agent are maintained for one (1) year.

Interconnectivity permitted between OSP centres of different companies: Interconnectivity between OSP centres belonging to different OSP companies shall be permitted. This is an important exemption and shift from the earlier position. It will enable flow over of work from urban OSP centres to rural OSP centres and will help in ensuring that full capacity is utilised at all OSP centres. 

Cloud-based contact centre service providers and Foreign EPABX: The New OSP Guidelines do not expressly clarify whether the use of cloud-based contact centre service providers (“CCSP”) for OSPs will be permitted or not. It only clarifies that International OSPs are permitted to use foreign-based EPABX, subject to compliance with Indian laws (including data privacy laws). However, copies of CDR and system logs must be stored at any of the OSP centres in India. It may be possible that DoT may issue subsequent clarifications on usage of CSPs by OSP centres. Further, whether copies of CDRs have to be maintained in real-time or not is not clear in the New OSP Guidelines. Assuming that CDRs will have to be replicated from a foreign location, at best, near real-time copies can only be made available, however, the frequency of extraction from foreign EPABX is not discernible at present. 

Sharing of EPABX: In contrast to the previous regime, the New OSP Guidelines do not lay down any requirements with regard to seeking specific approval of DoT and submission of bank guarantee for sharing of EPABX. The approval entailed implementation of logical partitioning of EPABX for use between International OSP, Domestic OSP and general office purposes. This is a major dispensation, considering that the requirements of submitting vendor certificates, partition tables and other documents were extremely cumbersome. 

Status quo on the following aspects

  • Permitted interconnectivity: The New OSP Guidelines reiterate that two (2) or more Domestic OSP centres or two (2) or more International OSP centres of a company/ group company may interconnect with each other, as was the case earlier. This may imply that an OSP centre cannot interconnect with a location that is not an OSP centre, except where specifically permitted. 
  • Distributed architecture: OSPs can have distributed architecture (i.e. main EPABX at a centralised location and media gateways at individual OSP centres) where EPABX is owned by OSP. This implies that use of CCSP is not envisaged in this setup under the New OSP Guidelines. 
  • Use of CUG: As was the case earlier, the use of CUG is permitted for internal communication of OSP and interconnection of OSPs is permitted for the same company/ group of companies. However, under the New OSP Guidelines, the use of CUG is permitted not only for internal communications but for “operations” of the OSP as well. This may mean that the use of CUG could also be allowed for OSP operations, but more clarity is required on this aspect.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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