Telecom subscribers may get respite from unwanted calls and text messages in the next few months with the regulator tightening rules and setting stiff penalties of between Rs 1,000 and Rs 50 lakh per violation in a month on telcos that don’t comply with guidelines to check the menace.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India asked telcos on Thursday to use blockchain technology to reduce pesky and unwanted commercial calls and messages and mandated subscriber consent to receive telemarketing messages.
It said “a complete overhaul of the earlier regulations had become unavoidable” in the light of 2 million complaints till date even after disconnection of 1.4 million numbers and blacklisting of 460,000 numbers so far.
Experts called the new rules complex, costly and unlikely to resolve the problem.
The regulator gave telcos six months to de-recognise handsets that do not support apps enabling customers to choose the calls and messages they wish to receive. It rejected the contention of manufacturers that this aspect was beyond Trai’s jurisdiction.
“The network cannot operate totally independently of the user equipment. Such elements of the equipment that affect the performance of the network or the experience of some or all its users may be regulated as necessary in the discharge of Trai’s statutory obligations,” the regulator said.
The rule will put Apple in the crosshairs. The iPhone maker has been involved in an over-a-year-long spat over this issue, with Apple not allowing the regulator’s do-not-disturb app on its App Store, saying it flouts the company’s privacy norms.
“The objective of the regulation notified today is to effectively deal with the nuisance of spam experienced by the subscribers… Blacklisting and introducing signature solutions in the network helped initially but despite taking various measures, complaints are on the rise and the problem is not fully under control,” the regulator said.
The regulator advocated the deployment of blockchain technology, a digital ledger used to manage crypto-currencies, to ensure that telemarketing messages are sent only to subscribers from authorised entities.
The regulator first notified the draft rules in May and left them open for consultation till June 18.
Telcos were concerned that the rules were brought in without undertaking a cost-benefit analysis, given their stressed financial condition and ability to absorb additional regulatory costs.
“We remain concerned about whether the regulation addresses the issues of unsolicited calls origination from unregistered telemarketers,” the Cellular Operators Association of India said in response to the move to ask telcos to ensure that commercial communication takes place only through registered senders.
“The timeframes for implementing, especially given the requirement to implement Distributed Ledger Technology (blockchain), which has not been implemented by any other regulator, appears too stringent and difficult to achieve,” said the industry body, which represents all major telcos.
The regulator termed its solution for pesky calls “user friendly and automated” and said technological advancements would smoothen processes and reduce the cost of compliance.
Violations would attract penalties ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 50 lakh in a month, depending on the type of offence. Trai has specified access providers must make arrangements to facilitate customers by providing ways and means to record consent and revocation related to commercial communication.
The terminating telco may charge up to five paise for each commercial message from the originating network.
Experts were sceptical of Trai’s latest attempt at checking unwanted calls and messages.
“I don’t think this will work because the scale of the problem is huge. Identifying culprits is not trivial since many are not registered telemarketers. The solution seems complex. Blockchain solution is expensive, unfamiliar and untested,” said Mahesh Uppal, director at telecom consulting firm ComFirst.
The regulations are well meaning but unrealistic, he said.
“We need something simple, cost-effective and enforceable,” Uppal said.