This time, mobile phone users hope for real relief from pesky calls

Indo Asian News Services/, December 06, 2010

Dheeraj Kumar, a real esate broker here and frequent traveller, finally hopes he will be spared from the unwanted calls from tele-marketing firms and the hole they burn in his wallet following new norms announced by the telecom watchdog.

Experts also agree that this time the penalty on errant companies that can stretch up to Rs.250,000 will be a major deterrent. But what worry them now are the unregistered tele-marketing companies, even though the new rules cover them as well.

‘I can’t skip calls from unknown numbers. But by accepting these unwanted calls all that I got were inflated bills. This was particularly unfair when I was abroad. You know how expensive international roaming is,’ Kumar said.

‘I hope people now get some respite,’ Kumar told IANS speaking about himself and also those among the nearly 690-million mobile phone subscribers who have been bothered day-in and day-out by such calls.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) realised its previous attempt to curb unsolicited calls had not really worked and accordingly announced a set of new measures. The salient features of the regulations, to become effective from Jan 1, are:

-Defaulting firms to pay fine of Rs.25,000 for first offence, stretching to Rs.250,000; -Customers can choose to block all calls or allow messages/calls under seven categories: finance, realty, education, health, consumer goods, entertainment and tourism;

-Telemarketeers to be allocated numbers starting with ’70’ for easy identification; -No communication allowed from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.; -Customer registration to be activated within seven days instead of 45 days; and -Banks and insurance firms can only send messages on transactions, no calls.

To address the possible misuse by unregistered tele-marketers, the telecom watchdog has also proposed that individuals cannot get a package that permits more than 100 SMSs per day. And those in existence have to be withdrawn from Jan 1.

Experts like Mahesh Uppal, director of consultancy ComFirst India, feel the new norms have some limitations when it comes to unregistered tele-marketing firms — they have been the bigger menace in the past and may continue to be so.

‘If I open a shop, I can send bulk SMSs to 50 people to advertise my shop. But it will be very difficult for the operator to cancel my number just after a complaint from an individual customer,’ said Uppal.

But a top official at the telecom watchdog said enough provisions are there to deal with such issues. ‘If found that tele-marketing activities are being done by an unregistered person, the phone can be cut and penalty imposed after notice,’ he said.

Pradeep S. Mehta, secretary general of the non-profit rights organisation Consumer Unity and Trust Society, says the rules and regulations are comprehensive. Much now matters on how they are implemented.

‘These are all welcome steps. The main concern is unregistered tele-marketeers. Such promoters can have multiple mobile numbers. It is, therefore, important to see how the telecom watchdog deals with them,’ Mehta told IANS.

At the same time, another set of stake-holders are also quite happy with the new norms — the service providers themselves, as evident from the remarks of Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of India’s largest mobile phone group, Bharti Airtel.

‘Many a time we as operators are unfairly blamed. These calls also block our networks. I am really hoping with the new recommendations, there will be an end to the menace our customers have to go through.’

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