KOLKATA: Consumers can expect respite from unwanted calls and text messages in the next few months with the telecom regulator unveiling draft rules that make gatekeeping of such calls by phone companies more stringent and third parties being required to seek customers’ consent for the kind of messages they wish to receive to preempt misuse.
The regulator has also mandated stiff penalties for telcos failing to curb unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) from registered telemarketers on their networks, ranging from Rs 1,000 tooverRs 46 lakhper violation, depending on the degree. Nearly 30 billion unsolicited messages are exchanged every month on the country’s telecom networks, according toindustry estimates.
“Unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) or ‘spam’ is a major nuisance to telecom subscribers, and the problem is addressed in the new regulations by requiring that (customer) consent be explicitly recorded by a third party and be activated only after subscribers’ confirmation,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said in its draft Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation, 2018, unveiled on Tuesday. It has sought comments by stakeholders and responses to them by June 11.
Explicit Consent’ of Customers
The rules will subsequently by finalised and implemented.
“Trai will be the first organisation to implement this kind of regulation and consumers will enjoy much better control,” said RS Sharma, chairman of the regulator. “Customers’ preference will instantaneously get activated when digital consent is taken that can be reviewed, modified and removed at any time by respective subscribers.”
Still, the menace may not be fully eradicated since telemarketers invariably circumvent rules.
“People always find newer ways to evade the system,” Sharma said. “But the new proposal uses a mix of technology and regulation as well as tools to check those who flout the rules.”
Trai has suggested that average consumers be offered options for choosing the kind of messages or calls they get and the time and days they’re received. Trai also proposes segregating messages into service and commercial categories — a customer will still get messages about a pizza delivery but not promotional ones from the restaurant chain.
Consumers will be able to opt in or out of commercial messaging by sending a message to 1909, through interactive voice response, USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) messaging, the National Consumer Preference Register website or a mobile app. The new options may be included in Trai’s existing Do-Not-Disturb app or telcos can develop their own apps. Trai will decide based on stakeholder views.
Trai’s new proposed mechanism will also provide for “explicit consent” that customers will be able to give digitally to third parties or telemarketers after approving this through a one-time password (OTP). Subscribers can change their preferences at any time.
The regulator has also advocated the deployment of blockchain technology to ensure telemarketing messages are only sent to subscribers from authorised entities.
Sharma said this is the first instance in which blockchain technology will be used anywhere in the world at such a scale in the telecom sector. “It will ensure two things—non-repudiative and confidentiality—in that those authorised will be only able to access subscriber details and only when they need to deliver the service.”
Blockchain, according to the telecom regulator, has been useful where the objective is “to cryptographically secure information and make it available only on a need-to-know basis”.
Phone users “will have the option to revoke his/her consent, if it is abused or is no longer relevant,” the sector regulator said.
Trai secretary SK Gupta said under the new system, “digital records” will show the entire communication among the entities involved.
The “use of new technology to address the problem is certainly innovative, especially since the issue of unwanted, spam calls and unwanted and unsolicited messages of all kinds are acknowledged globally to be a nuisance and an irritant to customers,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) lobby group.
He declined to comment on the suggested hefty penalties for UCC violations.
“The association’s members would require adequate time to review Trai’s draft proposal, given the complexity of the matter and technology involved, to ensure its efficacy in addressing customer concerns around unwanted, spam calls, unsolicited messages,” Mathews said.
The regulator has also allowed terminating access providers to charge carriers on whose networks commercial communication messages originate. It has pegged a levy of 5 paise for each promotional, transactional or service text message.
Business entities, on their part, will be “given the facility to assert their identity through the header directly registered in their name” and presentation of “their brand name during voice calls,” according to the draft rules.
But this will be allowed only after thorough vetting of the organisation.
Trai had issued a discussion paper in September last year outlining more than two dozen questions aimed at creating systems for the registration of telemarketers and making complaint redressal robust, efficient and less cumbersome.
The regulator said new rules were needed as the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) Registry, established in 2010, had failed to contain unsolicited calls and messages. “Unscrupulous elements have obtained customers’ consent,” often surreptitiously, or resorted to the use of unregistered telemarketers calling or messaging from 10-digit numbers, it said. About 230 million users have registered on the DND facility since its launch.
Fraud calls and messages have been rising of late, Trai said. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Securities & Exchange Board of India (Sebi) recently asked Trai to check the misuse of messages purporting to originate from them.