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Spam calls still months away from stopping

Spam calls still months away from stopping

New Delhi: Still being bombarded with phone text messages about property you have no interest in?

And how about those calls offering instant loans because you have such a great credit record?

Get used to them. Spam message calls and messages on your cellphone aren’t likely to stop for another six-nine months at least, according to several government officials and telecom executives.

This, despite the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) having issued strict new norms in December on such calls and messages that waste time and clutter up inboxes.

The reason for the delay? Technical issues surrounding the allotment of a single number prefix (140) for all unsolicited commercial communications (UCCs) across fixed-line and cellphones.

A senior official in the department of telecommunications (DoT) said the issues relating largely to the new number prefix on landlines “should be cleared soon".

Several UCC deadlines have been missed for various reasons. The regulator moved the date for the implementation of the regulations, for the third time, to 21 March, after which it has been extended indefinitely. The first deadline of 1 January was missed because the website for telemarketeers to register was not ready. The new date was 1 February, which was moved to 1 March due to the numbering issue.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has asked for a few months to get the required infrastructure in place, but the company may need more time, said a senior official with the state-run telecom service provider. The official, who did not want to be identified, was referring to the costs involved in upgrading equipment for the UCC system to work.

“Once the number (prefix) is ready and allotted by DoT, it will take us two to three weeks to implement the new rules," a senior Trai official said.

All the operators were asked for their comments on the issue last week and were given time till Wednesday to respond. Most of the operators said that it was an issue to be sorted out by DoT and Trai.

Still, there may be some respite on spam text messages.

“We have said that the private operators are prepared to at least implement the norms for SMS (short messaging service) till the issue is resolved for the fixed line," said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India, a lobby group for cellphone companies.

The key issue is that fixed-line infrastructure has to take into account short-distance charging area (SDCA) codes, more commonly referred to as subscriber trunk dialling codes. Operators such as Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and BSNL, the country’s primary fixed-line providers, have switches incapable of handling more than a certain number of digits. With the prefix of 140 added, the number of digits exceeds 10, the handling of which requires the telcos to upgrade their switches, which for MTNL and BSNL run into thousands.

India has a total of 34.87 million fined-line connections, including 25.4 million for BSNL and 3.5 million for MTNL as on February-end.

Most telemarketeers use landlines, making the resolution of this issue critical for implementing UCC norms. A large proportion of the existing switches have a capacity of around 10,000 lines and cost around $50,000 (Rs 22.25 lakh). New upgraded switches could cost as much as $2-3 million each, according to a company official.

The usage of the 140 number will be similar to that of the 800 number in the US, where one number defines the service and not the area of the call’s origin.

India’s telecom networks are divided into a number of LDCAs (long-distance charging areas), each of which consist of one or more SDCAs, further broken down into one or more telephone exchanges. Every SDCA has a certain code that’s prefixed to all numbers dialled out of the area or coming in. With the implementation of the new Trai norms, 140 will need to be added before this SDCA code.

On 1 December, Trai released revised norms setting out strict parameters for all marketing communications over the phone. As per the rules, cellphone subscribers can either choose to block all such calls or receive them selectively.

To this end, Trai defined seven categories of services—banking and finance, real estate, education, health, consumer goods and automobiles, communication and entertainment, and tourism and leisure. Subscribers can choose to selectively receive messages related to the above services. Such messages and calls can’t be sent or made between 9pm and 9am.

Trai had also set very strict penalties for defaulting telemarketeers up to as much as 2.5 lakh for the sixth offence after which the marketeer would face a ban.

Customers registered on the National Do Not Call Registry would continue to be fully blocked and wouldn’t need to register again. Trai’s regulations also provided that all action on complaints had to be completed with seven days.


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