India Tries Again to Block Unsolicited Telemarketers

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has introduced new rules and stiffer penalties for telemarketers, designed to prevent unsolicited telemarketing calls and SMS messages.

The new rules, called The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations 2010, are to come into effect from Jan. 1, TRAI said on Wednesday.

TRAI had to take some action as unsolicited telemarketing and SMS spam have reached very high levels, said Kamlesh Bhatia, a principal research analyst at Gartner.

Mobile service providers are also likely to show more interest in solving the problem, Bhatia said. As competition increases in India's mobile market, service providers are focusing on providing customers with a better experience, and that would include removal of spam and unsolicited telemarketing, he added.

India's booming market for a variety of financial, consumer, and real-estate products is attracting a large number of telemarketers who see mobile phone users as an affluent and attractive segment of the market. Even mobile service providers frequently send unsolicited SMS messages to their customers with new offers.

To force telemarketers to register, TRAI is suggesting a ceiling of 100 SMS messages per day to regular subscribers. The reasoning is that telemarketers typically need to send a lot more than 100 SMS messages a day from each of their phone connections, and hence will be constrained to register as telemarketers.

Registered telemarketers will also be allotted a separate numbering series, TRAI said. That will allow customers to recognize and reject unsolicited calls or SMS messages from their phones using available technology, Bhatia said.

Customers can now register to be fully blocked from receiving telemarketing calls and SMS, or be partially blocked and receive promotional SMS only in their specific areas of interest, such as promotions for banking, health or consumer products, TRAI said.

Telemarketers and service providers are expected to check a National Customer Preference Register to see whether the customer is in a blocked category before transmitting the communication. This two-stage screening is designed to stop any unsolicited calls or SMS messages, TRAI said.

India introduced a do-not-call registry in June 2007 to prevent telemarketers from pestering telephone subscribers, but three years later it was found that it does not meet the requirement.

A large number of telemarketers did not register with the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) as required, TRAI said in a review in June. Telemarketers have also shifted from using voice calls to predominantly using SMS, it added.

As a result, 340,231 complaints regarding unsolicited commercial communications were received by January from registered users .

The do-not-call registry did not work well because many telephone users did not subscribe to the service. By March 31, 65.82 million subscribers or about 10 percent of the total subscriber base had signed up for the service, even though many of those who did not subscribe did not want telemarketing calls, TRAI said. The regulator expects that more people who do not want telemarketing calls will now register, as they can now opt in and opt out from the various schemes using SMS or a voice call.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon