Nirmala Ganapathy – Straits Times Indonesia
India is getting new rules that limit the sending of SMSes and phone calls to stop pesky telemarketers from bombarding people with messages and calls through the day and night.
From today, no one will be able to send more than 3,000 text messages per month, or an average of 100 per day.
The government has also updated a do-not-call registry that allows people to block calls and messages from listed telemarketers, or pick and choose what promotional messages they want to get.
The move comes in response to growing complaints about smaller telemarketing firms here, which have become notorious for sending out bulk messages selling everything from property and sauna belts to weight-loss herbal pills.
An estimated 75 million bulk messages are sent every day in India, according to one report in the Hindustan Times.
There are around 1,500 large telemarketing companies in India, and thousands of smaller ones, many of them unregistered.
Under the new rules, there is a daily limit of 100 SMSes for pre-paid SIM cards, and a monthly limit of 3,000 SMSes for usual cellphone contracts. The system will prevent users from sending out more.
‘The main objective is to ensure that consumers do not get commercial communications of promotional nature unless they have specifically opted for receiving them,’ the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, the new rules have ruffled some feathers, especially among young Indians who communicate extensively through SMS.
“Just because the telemarketers are bothering me, I can’t send as many SMSes as I want now… this is a dictatorial rule,” complained Geeta Singh, 31, an executive who likes to send jokes to friends and has logged a personal record of 700 messages in one day.
Some telecommunications companies and analysts also say the new rules are overkill.
Said Rajan S. Mathews, the director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India: “We believe there are other ways to address concerns… SMS is a very inexpensive medium for a whole lot of people.”
Analyst Kunal Bajaj added: “We need to control spam and SMSes, but this is overkill. You stop spam SMSes, but you will also stop a lot of the useful stuff, like Google news or traffic updates.”
But many of India’s 900 million mobile phone subscribers welcome the rules.
“I hope this works,” said Nikhil Pahwa, a website editor who was so fed up with bulk SMSes that he stopped checking his messages a long time back. “Many businesses are going to get hurt, but they had it coming. They abused the system.”
No less than Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was said to have been interrupted by a promotional call last year in the middle of an important political meeting. People at the meeting said he lost his temper, cut off the call and later complained to the telecommunications authority.
Every month, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India receives some 40,000 complaints about telemarketers.
Last month, it cut off 72,000 phone connections of registered telemarketers and more than 118,000 of those of unregistered firms for calling people even though they had subscribed to a do-not-call registry.
Past efforts to address the problem have not met with much success.
The national do-not-call registry was introduced in 2007, with 130 million subscribers signing up to have telemarketers blocked from calling them. But it proved largely ineffective after many telemarketers resorted to sending bulk SMSes instead. Enforcement was also poor, and many companies did not register with the telecommunications authority, and thus could not be blocked.
The rules have been tightened to allow people to opt for a blanket ban on all telemarketing calls and SMSes, or choose to accept messages in areas such as health, travel, banking and insurance.
Telemarketing companies will also have to update their databases regularly, while telecommunications operators will have to block calls to do-not-call subscribers or face fines that have been raised substantially, from below 100 rupees (S$2.60) to 25,000 rupees and above now.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.