By Sanu Nair
HELP IS round the corner for cell phone users whose handsets are clogged with unsolicited smses, making sales pitches. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is considering blacklisting agencies sending spam messages. According to TRAI, till March, it had received close to 3.4 lakh complaints from the 65.8 million subscribers of the national Do Not Call (DNC) registry, and issued more than 9,000 warning letters to telemarketers for sending spam smses. But while in the US, penalties can touch $120,000, the fine of Rs 500 imposed in India for the first violation and Rs 1,000 subsequently, doesn’t seem to have deterred callers. “We have received proposals to blacklist telemarketers violating the DNC. We are considering it,” assures SK Gupta, Adviser (Quality of Services), TRAI. The watchdog received proposals from stakeholders till the end of July.
The regulator also feels that charging higher tariff from telemarketing agencies based on complaints benefits the provider, not the complainant, and wants new guidelines for compensating consumers.
This, it believes, will also encourage subscribers to lodge complaints. “Since 2007, we’ve been asking the Department of Telecom (DoT) for a special legislation to deal with this issue,” Gupta says, adding: “Currently we don’t have the right to penalise frequent offenders.” All that TRAI has so far done is to disconnect the telephone connections of about 15,000 registered and 38,000 unregistered telemarketers. What makes it difficult to track offenders, according to Gupta, is that most telemarketing campaigns are contracted and then further sub-contracted. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a non-profit industry body, too advocates blacklisting errant telemarketers. “Operators should be empowered to refuse company accounts with rogue clients who engage services of non-registered and non-compliant telemarketers,” IAMAI told the regulator.
Charging higher tariff from telemarketers benefits providers, not the complainan
Ranjan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, admits that a “few” members violate the DNC list, but accuses TRAI of not updating the registry frequently and making it “easily available” to telemarketers. “In the US there are stiff fines for unsolicited calls. Here only the operators, who have very little role in the origin of a message, are questioned,” Mathews observes. TRAI has called for a “Do Call” registry that allows calls to registered subscribers. However, some like enterprise mobility company ValueFirst Messaging, say the proposal is “regressive” and will kill the industry, leading to job cuts. “Such a move may force global players to exit India,” ValueFirst says in its recommendation to TRAI. Mere excuses?