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No respite from pesky SMSes

Despite many mobile users choosing to go with National Do Not Call Registry, telemarketing operators are bending rules to keep their business going

Do you still wake up to offers of reducing your belly fat and consequently your bank balance on your mobile phone at odd hours? You are not alone. Though many cellphone users have gone with the National Do Not Call (NDNC) Registry, telemarketing operators have found ways around that. Telemarketers are sending these SMSes online promoting their products and bypassing the rules laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) by using servers and message gateways located overseas.


Representative pic

Foreign exchange!
Although these SMSes cost them more but most say it's worth it. Many of these servers are in the United States (US), Australia and some parts of Europe. The cost of sending messages through these servers is between 50 and 55 paise per SMS, which would be merely 10-20 paise if an Indian server is used.

According to cyber experts it is very difficult to keep a check on such messages. "TRAI has no mechanism to keep a track on SMSes which are being routed through foreign countries. These SMS gateways were used earlier but as soon local business grew there were many bulk SMS providers in India, which provided services at dirt cheap rates. Now when government has curbed SMSes on DND numbers, these operators have gone back to the old ways," said Vivek Vohra, a Delhi-based cyber expert.

A bulk SMS dealer, on the condition of anonymity, said, "There are many message gateways like LM, TD and others. One gateway can send 1,800 SMSes per second and about 7.75 crore SMSes can be sent between 9 am and 9 pm. TRAI guidelines talk about putting a check on messages, but where is the mechanism to keep a track on crores of SMSes?"

Taking a call
Last month, TRAI came up with new guidelines to end woes of over 870 million mobile subscribers receiving unsolicited calls/messages. As per these rules, telemarketers are assigned a distinct series beginning with 140 so that if you find any call from any number starting with this series you can choose to not attend to the call.

The number of text messages or SMSes that can be sent has been restricted to 100 a day per SIM for prepaid and 3,000 a month for post-paid telephone numbers. But these new guidelines seem to be a true reflection on the failure of the much hyped 'NDNC Registry' system, which was first introduced in 2007.

Exemptions
TRAI last week exempted various service providers, including dealers of telecom operators, e-ticketing agencies and social networking sites, from the new limit of one hundred SMSes per day per SIM, which was imposed to block pesky calls and messages. The directive from the regulator had come in the wake of concerns raised by telecom lobby COAI on limiting the SMS entitlement per SIM to 100 per day. It will also exempt e-ticketing agencies for responding to e-ticketing request made by its customers, SMSes from social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn and GooglePlus to their members in connection to activities relating to their accounts, based on verifiable options; and agencies providing directory services, such as Justdial, Zatse, Callezee, Getit and Askme, TRAI added. Earlier, COAI had asked TRAI to reconsider its, saying that such a regulation may pose a potential challenge to the 'fundamental rights' of ordinary users. There are several instances where SMSes are an important mode of communication. There could be a situation where a customer has exhausted the limit and suddenly some emergency occurs, COAI had said.

Penalty corner
The minimum penalty for violations has been set at Rs 25,000. As the penalties will progressively increase, the sixth violation will attract Rs 2.5 lakh fine. Telemarketers can also be blacklisted for two years after the sixth violation. Service providers will be barred from providing any telecom resource to blacklisted telemarketers. But these rules do not apply to servers located outside India. TRAI reported last week that Vodafone has deducted Rs. 50,000 from some telemarketers' security deposit for violating guidelines for pesky calls and SMSes and has deposited the amount with the regulator. Vodafone penalised telemarketers under 'The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2010' which came into effect from September 27.

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