If you cannot stop an undesirable practice, regularise it–that seems to be the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) new approach in tackling unsolicited telemarketing calls and SMSs that plague telecom subscribers in the country.
The new regulation marks a significant shift from TRAI’s earlier regulation in 2007 that formed the basis of setting up of National Do-Not-Call (NDNC) Registry, which, incidentally, is still functional.
The spirit of the new regulation is very different and is reflected in its very title that reads, ‘The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2010.’ The title of the earlier regulation was, ‘Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations, 2007.’
One will note that instead of ‘Unsolicited Commercial Communications,’ the focus now is on ‘Commercial Communications Customer Preference.’ The omission of the term ‘Unsolicited’ from the new regulation title is particularly noteworthy.
A question that comes up regarding this is: why was such a regulation required when the National Do-Not-Call (NDNC) Registry was already in place?
TRAI’s own release on its freshly issued regulation may provide a clue, “It may be recalled that in June 2007, TRAI had notified the Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations, 2007. Despite various measures taken by the Authority for curbing Unsolicited Commercial Communications, dissatisfaction on this account among telecom consumers continues.
So which specific measures were taken to improve the effectiveness of NDNC, the “primary objective” of which is “to curb Unsolicited Commercial Communication,” as stated on the NDNC registry website.
Well, TRAI keeps publishing consultation papers on various topics of subscriber and industry significance and also invites comments and counter comments on these papers. It then goes through the process of formulating a regulation. This time too, a consultation paper was floated and the comments received were published around mid-2010.
Interestingly, the consultation paper, which was floated to review the earlier regulation, explicitly stated, “As an alternative to address the problem of Unsolicited Commercial Communications, option for a National Do Call Registry has to be explored.”
However, “While some consumer organisations and individuals advocated the adoption of a Do Call Registry, most of the telemarketers and service providers and even some individuals, have opposed the concept of a Do Call Registry,” TRAI has noted.
A Do Call Registry would require a consumer to explicitly say that he or she would like to receive unsolicited calls and SMSs. This is because a Do Call Registry would exist on the premise that all subscriber numbers would be activated with do-not-call by default. And that’s something obviously against the interests of unsolicited commercial calling (UCC).
Now, how about a ‘Do Call’ permission within a ‘Do Not Call’ framework? Well, that would be great for UCC, thank you. Ironic though it may sound, that’s what the new regulation amounts to, in effect. The new procedure is structured to encourage subscribers to allow UCC rather than block it.
There are two categories to select from: fully blocked and partially blocked. The first option is equivalent to the existing NDNC, while the second one offers seven categories to choose from (for allowing UCC, of course). These include banking & insurance, real estate, consumer goods and leisure.
So effectively, all the new regulation does is to add a ‘partially blocked’ or ‘do call’ category, rather than strengthening the existing NDNC mechanism. From this viewpoint, it serves telemarketers’ interests more than those of consumers. Sure, there is no harm in regulating an industry that employs a huge number of young people, but why do so in the name of serving interests of consumers? There could have been a Telemarketing Regulatory Act of India instead.
(As published in Deccan Chronicle, December 9, 2010, header changed.)

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