In a move that is likely to bring respite to phone consumers receiving unwanted commercial calls and text messages, India’s telecom regulator has directed that a national ‘do-not-call’ database, of consumers who do not want to receive such communication, be set up. The National Informatics Centre, or Nic, part of the ministry of information technology, will set up a centralized database or registry of users, which telemarketing firms will have to consult before making calls. The ‘do not call’ or DNC database will be set up three months after Tuesday’s decision of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is notified later this week.
Trai has relied on a number-based, three-stage enforcement process as part of the effort to crack down on intrusive telemarketers. The first step is for the consumer to call a dedicated toll-free number provided by the mobile-phone operator and lodge a complaint, to which the operator has to give a written acknowledgement within 10 days. After that, consumers have to wait up to 45 days for their name to end up in the list with NIC.
If more commercial messages or calls are received after 45 days, the customer can complain once again to the phone firm with the number from which the unsolicited call was made. Such a caller will then be fined and on repeating the offence, have the phone service disconnected.
Consumer organizations were critical of the design of the plan and the dependence on operators for the success of the DNC plan. “Operators are motivated by the profits they make. Under the proposed system, how can we be sure that they actually carry out the disconnections against people against whom repeated complaints from different consumers are made,” asked Achinthya Mukherjee, joint secretary of the Bombay Telephone Users’ Association, a consumer-rights organization that participated in Trai’s earlier discussions on the subject.
In response, Trai said it will put in place further mechanisms to ensure compliance at the operator level, including periodic checking by Trai and NIC. “It is too early to spell out the exact details of how compliance will be achieved at the operator level... We will be issuing further directions later on,” Sudhir Gupta, the regulator’s advisor in charge of mobile networks, said.
The move, if successful, is likely to have a negative impact on the revenues of both the cellular operators and telemarketing companies. Trai estimates that around 10 billion telemarketing calls are made every year. At a basic Re1 each call works out to Rs1,000 crore a year in revenues at the operators’ end, equivalent of about 1% of the total sales of the telecom industry.
An industry expert predicted a 50% drop in telemarketing and other calls to mobile phone customers on lines of the experience of similar registries in the US and the UK. “There will be a negative impact in the short term if telemarketing calls were to completely cease,” said Vishal Malhotra, partner with audit firm Ernst & Young in New Delhi. “But partly because the ban applies only to people who register themselves on the database and partly because of the fast growth rate in subscriber numbers, the impact will not be very drastic.” India adds about six million customers every month to its nearly 175-million-strong user base.
Trade body Cellular Operators’ Association of India welcomed the regulation, despite the potential negative impact on revenues of operators. “It will go a long way in improving the image of the mobile services in the country as consumers were calling us and complaining about such calls,” said T.V. Ramachandran, secretary general of the association.