New TRAI pesky calls norms won’t help, say consumers body

The Economic Times, July 20, 2018

The telecom regulator’s new rules to quell the menace of pesky calls and text messages are unlikely to offer respite any time soon because the redressal app is not user-friendly, consumer groups and experts said. They added that telcos could take as much as 18 months to deploy the mandated blockchain solution to mitigate the problem.

Phone companies said the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s decision to impose hefty penalties alone would not fix a consumer problem that telcos are trying to resolve technically, which could raise the spectre of mass litigation and implementation challenges.

Trai came out with the rules on Thursday, making it mandatory to seek subscriber consent for receiving unsolicited commercial communications or unwanted calls or messages from telemarketers. It came out with steps that consumers need to take to ensure they don’t receive such communication.

“Using the complaint mechanism, as in the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) app, remains a tedious task with as many as five fields to fill,” said Hemant Upadhyay, advisor (telecom & IT) at Consumer Voice, a leading telecom consumer group.

Rahul Singh, policy analyst at Consumer Unity & Trust Society, backed the view, saying, “Vast swathes of the country’s population won’t be able to use the DND app due to language limitations as complaints can only be lodged in English or Hindi, which is grossly inadequate in a country as diverse as India.”

Trai has been examining the issue since 2007 and brought out the first regulation in 2011. Although the regulator established the DND Registry in 2010, it acknowledged in May this year that new rules were needed because the registry had failed to check the menace. It launched the DND app in June 2017, but that hasn’t helped.

Mahesh Uppal, director at telecom consulting firm ComFirst, said the new regulation is unlikely to be successful because the regulator “has not included adequate handholding features” in its DND app. Most people, he said, are still clueless about how the DND app works.

“Trai should have come out with a comprehensive FAQ” explaining what unsolicited commercial communications are all about and the risks/implications of inviting them in real life situations, and eventually dealing with them, he said.

A mobile user navigating the DND app would be in the dark about how to deal with unwanted calls and text messages that possibly got triggered after he downloaded an ecommerce app onto his smartphone and inadvertently gave consent to notifications.

“The app, in its present form, does not provide an immediate solution,” Uppal said.

Operators aren’t optimistic either, saying implementing blockchain technology to stop the menace would be time-consuming and pose significant cost and process overhaul challenges for an industry under financial stress.

“Asking mobile operators to embrace blockchain technology to stop the pesky calls menace is asking them to enter uncharted waters, which is why, they would obviously require at least 12-18 months to deploy it after getting a fix on the scale of likely internal business process overhauls and the costs involved that are bound to be substantial,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents all major telcos.

The regulator has advocated deployment of blockchain technology — a digital ledger used to manage crypto-currencies — to ensure telemarketing messages are sent only to subscribers from authorised entities.

Mathews said “hefty penalties cannot be a solution” to a consumer problem that telcos will need to address using technical means, saying such a scenario could always lead to litigation if the financial disincentives imposed on access providers are deemed inappropriate and unfair.

“If operators feel aggrieved, they will look at all options for relief,” he said.

In its regulation aimed at ending unwanted calls and text messages, Trai set stiff penalties of between Rs 1,000 and Rs 50 lakh per violation in a month on telcos that don’t comply with rules to rein in the menace.

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