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New Delhi: Millions of mobile phone subscribers in India will finally have the option to block calls from telemarketers in three-four weeks, after the telecom ministry approved a new number prefix that will help consumers identify such callers.

A new national customer preference register will also allow users to fully or partially block annoying spam messages and calls.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) on Thursday cleared a numbering series for the so-called unsolicited commercial communications, paving the way for implementing the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) regulations, that will give subscribers more control on what kind of calls or texts they want to receive.

In December, the telecom regulator had introduced new rules to curb unsolicited calls and texts to mobile phones. The regulations stipulated that the 140 number be prefixed to a telemarketer’s phone number so that a consumer can identify the caller.

Other rules include a maximum fine of 2.5 lakh (for the fifth offence) by telemarketers that are found communicating to consumers registered with the national customer preference register, the upgraded version of the so-called do-not-call registry. On the sixth offence, telecom operators have to ban the telemarketer.

Operators have to make changes in their networks to allow for the new series.

“The number series (140) has been cleared," a DoT official said. “In a few weeks, they should be implemented."

A Trai official said implementing the regulation will take about three weeks. “It should be done by the first week of September," said the official, who did not want to be named.

Trai has also allowed phone users to choose between a fully blocked or a partially blocked category in the upgraded register. In the second category, a user can chose from seven sub-categories—banking and financial products, real estate, education, health, consumer goods, automobiles, communication and entertainment, tourism and leisure—for which they want to receive information.

Implementation of the regulations was awaiting clearance of the number series, but this was delayed as the intelligence bureau wanted to ensure they can intercept communication done through the new system.

Another reason for the delay was the preparedness of network operators. The new series requires operators to re-programme their switches to recognize numbers of telemarketer. The 140 series should be prefixed on landlines and mobile phones telemarketers use.

A telemarketing call from a Delhi landline number will start with 14011, including the area code at the end. For calls made from mobile phones, the number will show as 14098 or 14099, making the numbers longer than the operators’ switches can now recognize.

The main difficulty lies in reprogramming the old equipment currently used for landlines to read the extended numbering. This will require state-run operators to overhaul their equipment installed across the country.

“Most telemarketers use fixed-lines. While reprogramming the switches for mobiles can be done in a short while, the fixed-lines could take a little longer," said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India. “Once the number is assigned, we should be ready within the timeframe given by the DoT."

“We are no better or worse-off than the private operators," said R.K. Upadhyay, chairman and managing director of state-run operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, or BSNL. “The only difference is that we have a large base of fixed-line subscribers."

Now representatives from DoT, Trai and BSNL have to meet and put together a timeframe by when the new rules have to be implemented.

Last week, DoT told the parliamentary standing committee on information technology that all service providers, except the two government-owned firms BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, were ready to implement the new regulations.

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