Indian law frees users from telemarketers

Country's National Do Not Call registry begins Sep. 5, allowing landline and mobile phone users to opt out of receiving unsolicited calls and SMS.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

INDIA--The community of over 230 million telecom subscribers in India will be able to seek relief from unwanted telemarketing calls as the country's Do Not Call directive kicks into action tomorrow.

India's telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in June unveiled the "Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations 2007", putting in place a mechanism to curb unwanted telemarketing calls.

The new directive allows subscribers to list their landline and mobile numbers under the National Do Not Call (NDNC) database and opt out of receiving any Unsolicited Commercial Communications (UCC), including SMS (short messaging service).

Details about the size of the industry are unavailable, largely because most of India's telemarketing companies are not registered and operate from small offices located across the country. However, industry estimates have put the number at around 35,000.

A consultation paper released by the TRAI in November 2006 projected that the telemarketing industry in India makes approximately 10 billion calls each year. At a little over 2 cents a call, the size of the industry works out to approximately US$240 million, according to the paper.

The Indian government's Department of Telecommunications had authorized the National Informatics Center (NIC) to oversee the installation, operation and maintenance of the NDNC registry.

Under the new regulation, telemarketers are required to verify their list of telephone numbers--they will be calling to market their services--with the NDNC registry before making a call. According to the directive, every telemarketer operating in India must register with the NDNC database to ensure their list of numbers do no include those that are on the registry. An updated list will also be sent to the telemarketers every 15 days.

Despite repeated attempts, ZDNet Asia could not get the exact number of subscribers and telemarketers that have since registered with the Department of Telecommunications through its Web site.

According to the site, subscribers looking to include their numbers in the registry can submit their request--free of charge--to their telecom service providers via phone, SMS, online or letter. Service providers have ten days to acknowledge such requests, which will be made effective within 45 days from the date of request.

Penalty for recalcitrant telemarketers
The regulation dictates that telephone subscribers who continue to receive unsolicited commercial calls or SMS even after registering with the NDNC, can file a complaint with the TRAI.

Errant telemarketers will pay a fine of US$12.20 (500 rupee) per call to the subscriber as penalty, a bid to deter marketers from marking calls numbers registered in NDNC list. Recalcitrant telemarketers can also face disconnection of their telecom service.

According to a source working at a telecom service provider, who declined to be named, telemarketers have been slow in registering with the Department of Telecommunications. "So far, only the large BPO (business process outsourcing) [call and data centers] have registered themselves with the Department," he told ZDNet Asia.

S. C. Khanna, secretary general with the Association of Basic Telecom Operators, said in a phone interview: "It is difficult to estimate the loss of revenue to the telecom operators as the result of this regulation." India's telemarketing industry is still largely disorganized, noted Khanna, whose association represents CDMA operators in India.

In addition, the country's telecom operators have often been blamed for giving out subscriber information to telemarketers--a suggestion that one industry body denies has any merit.

"It is incorrect to say that telecom operators have been profiteering by selling subscriber details," T. V. Ramachandran, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said in a phone interview. These telemarketers are doing more harm to the image of the telecom operators, he said. Established in 1995, the COAI is a non-profit industry group which aims to advance the country's communication infrastructure through cellular mobile services.

According to Ramachandran, it is very easy to buy CDs that contain mobile numbers of celebrities in India. "It can be yours for US$24.40 (1,000 rupee)," he said.

The menace of UCC started in 2003, when incoming mobile calls were provided free across the country. Ramachandran noted: "People started printing their mobile numbers on their [business] cards, and this led to the compilation of directories."

While Khanna believes that few subscribers will register with the NDNC, Ramachandran feels that in the long run, the Registry will gain popularity and lead to the maturity of India's telemarketing industry.

"With this NDNC registry, the telemarketing industry should be able to get better yields for the calls they make," Ramachandran said. "Today, they make calls but only get [cursed by angry subscribers]. But, the experience of other countries tells us that a breach of 'do not disturb' directories is not uncommon."

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

Editorial standards