New Delhi: Ritesh Sharma didn’t receive a single unsolicited call or text message on his mobile phone on Tuesday. It’s a “relief”, said the 26-year-old lawyer. “It was a nightmarish experience. I used to get messages at 4 in the morning and could do nothing about it.”
Millions of mobile phone subscribers in India now have the option to block calls and messages from telemarketers, with new rules on commercial communications, considered the most stringent in the world, becoming effective on Tuesday.
Telemarketers face a maximum fine of Rs 2.5 lakh (for the fifth offence) if found trying to communicate with people who do not want to be communicated with and have not signed on to receive commercial messages or calls. On the sixth offence, telecom operators have to ban the telemarketer.
Operators say the new rules will not hurt their income.
“None of the operators have added any additional capacity to sell to the telemarketers,” said Rajan Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India. “Besides, SMS is only some 2-3% of the total revenues, so there isn’t any material impact really.”
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In fact, some operators who kept telemarketers away from their networks to a large extent earlier are looking at opening up to the sector as they expect the rules to give it some legitimacy, an executive with a large telco said on condition of anonymity.
The Rs 200-300 crore telemarketing sector is doing its best to stay afloat. Many telemarketers and firms using their services are advising customers to opt out of the do-not-disturb registry.
“There is a lot of confusion and we can only hope that with time it clears,” said Satya Yerramsetti, founder of Hyderabad-based SMSCountry Networks Pvt. Ltd, a telemarketing firm. “The categories (customers have the option of opting for individual categories of messages) are far too broad. We don’t know in which category services like cabs fit in. Nobody wants to risk sending even important messages as they may have to pay the hefty fines.”
Mathews doesn’t agree.
“Many of the legitimate telemarketers are saying that due to the opt-in facility, they are able to be far more effective with their communication. The regulations also force smaller operators who had given the segment a bad name to get out of the business,” he said.
Telemarketers are exploring alternative methods to reach customers. Netcore Solutions Pvt. Ltd is offering a webpage with a Twitter feed-like service. Cellphone users can log in to the page to access commercial messages they would have received on their handsets.
“One has to make good from a bad situation,” said Rajesh Jain, managing director of Netcore. “The service does encourage people to use the mobile Internet that almost every phone is equipped with now.”
While mobile phone users can register or opt in to receive commercial messages on their handsets, Netcore’s service allows them to check these messages when they want to.
Meanwhile, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has decided to expand the list of services exempt from its 100-SMS limit under the new rule. These include telecom operators and direct-to-home television providers for electronic recharge purposes; e-ticketing agencies; social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and directory services such as JustDial and Getit.
Trai is also looking into imposing a 5-paise termination charge per SMS from 15 October on service providers on whose networks commercial SMSes originate. Currently, some operators charge up to 15 paise an SMS as termination charge, but this is not the norm.
Graphic by Yogesh Kumar/Mint