India's Plans to Block Telemarketers Have Failed

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

The scheme required subscribers to register with a National Do Not Call (NDNC) registry if they did not want to be disturbed by telemarketers. The telemarketers, who were required to register with the Department of Telecommunications (DOT), faced stiff penalties for calling up subscribers who had registered in the do-not-call register.

By the end of January, a total of 340,231 complaints have been received by service providers regarding receiving unsolicited commercial communications even after registering with the NDNC, according to the telecom regulator, Telecom Regulator Authority of India (TRAI).

A large number of telemarketers did not register with the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) as required, TRAI said. Telemarketers have also shifted from voice calls to short message service (SMS), it added.

The NDNC did not work very well also 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.

In a recent consultation paper, TRAI has proposed that subscribers should be instead offered an "opt-in" option which requires them to register only if they want telemarketing calls, rather than the other way around. A number of countries are moving in this direction, according to TRAI.

Another option proposed by TRAI is to make it easier for subscribers to register with the NDNC through the use of toll free special numbers, and interactive voice response systems.

To force telemarketers to register with the DOT, TRAI is suggesting a ceiling on the maximum number of calls as well as SMS per day from a telephone number, wireless as well as wireline, so that it can force telemarketers to register with the DOT.

Analysts are however not as sure this will work. Mobile subscribers are a large and affluent market for telemarketers. Even mobile service providers cannot sometimes resist the temptation to SMS their subscribers with a variety of unsolicited offers, they added.

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