In September 2011, Pranab Mukherjee, when he was the finance minister, made the lethargic Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issue a notification to curb unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) or spam calls and SMS. Unfortunately, the ordinary mobile subscriber has no respite from the spate of unwanted commercial calls and SMS messages bombarding her everyday despite being registered on the national do not call (NDNC) registry.
The TRAI released consultation papers and then launched a mobile app called DND (do not disturb) to report unwanted SMS or call. But without any real time monitoring or strict action against violators - which include top insurers, lenders, telecom operators and credit card issuers, this menace continues, leaving mobile subscribers searching for a respite.
In addition, unlike other regulators like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) or Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), the telecom regulator seems unconcerned about customer issues and has no formal mechanism for grievance redress or filing complaints.
TRAI does not take any cognizance of individual complaints from telecom subscribers. The TRAI portal under its telecom consumer complaints monitoring system
, says, “TRAI Act, 1997 does not envisage handling of individual consumer complaints by TRAI. Consumers are advised to take up their complaints with their respective service providers. Complaints, if any, received in TRAI are forwarded to the service providers. No follow up action is taken by TRAI on individual complaint(s).”
When the regulator is not responsible for addressing consumers grievances, there are no prizes for guessing how complaints are treated. A majority of complaints are discarded without much action or on flimsy grounds, especially those against telemarketers or the telecom service providers.
According to the telecom regulator, as on May 2018, there were 23 crore mobile subscribers registered with the DND registry.
Last heard, TRAI and its chairman RS Sharma were coercing Apple Inc to allow access to call and SMS details for its DND 2.0 mobile app on iPhones in India.
The app DND 2.0 works well for Android based devices. In my previous article
, I had examined the first version of the DND app. The new version is much better in terms of ease of use and functions. Unfortunately, an app is not a regulator and can only act as a facilitator by forwarding details of spam calls and SMSs to the central registry number 1909 in a specified format.
I am also regular complainant about unwanted SMS and calls. I had opted for full or zero DNC category (which means no telemarketing SMS/call). However, except in few cases, where the number of the caller or SMS sender is available, and thus can be disconnected, there is hardly any action against the telemarketers or spammers reported on the app.
This is especially true for spammers who use codes (XX-XXXXXX) to send bulk text messages; they are evidently protected through various means. For example, one astrologer was spamming me with SMSes using ‘BW ASTROL’ as header. When I filed complaint through the DND app, after a few days, the status showed 'incomplete/incorrect info'!
Many spammers are shielded by the telcos themselves as these are paid services. For example, I used to receive several SMS from a portal selling old items, with a header of ‘IM-Selold’. When I complained, I was told this was a 'service SMS/call'!
Interestingly, the header ‘IM’ stands for Idea from Mumbai circle, my service provider. So no guess how the spammer could have received my mobile number and got away from the crime with a label of 'service SMS/call'. As per TRAI regulations, first letter in the header of the SMS denotes name of operator followed by area or region. (For more check this page from NDNC.in
Out of my 30 complaints about the Idea number filed through the DND app, there was action only against four. This too was because these four were mobile numbers and were disconnected after my complaint. On my Jio connection, I had filed 15 complaints, and there was action against one number only.
In both cases, there was no action against any telemarketer, who had used bulk SMS services. This means telemarketers, who sent SMS through any telco are shielded by the same or other telco from where the message originated.
Check the SMS below that was sent by a telemarketer.
However, instead of taking any action, I was told this was a service SMS/ call!
I am wondering which service provider offers to book a spacious flat for Rs2.5 crore. This is a clear marketing messge soliciting business, however, Idea Cellular, Vodafone (I received the SMS on this number as well) and TRAI (yes, ultimately the buck stops with the regulator) think otherwise.
This action taken message was sent by Vodafone. It mentions ‘no action has been taken by HFCL’. This HFCL is Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd, which had won 4G licences in almost every telecom circle. As per TRAI, there are 175 telecom service providers, but HFCL does not feature in the list. I even checked the list of registered telemarketers. There are 8,638 registered telemarkers as per the national do not call registry portal
but again HFCL is not there in the list. So the large question remains, who is HFCL and how it was supposed to take action on my complaint?
In the above cases, the operator is Idea Cellular, which recently was merged with Vodafone. Hope, they will at least try to match with DNC handling efficiency of Vodafone (it is not the best, but still much better compared with others).
On handling DNC complaints, less said is better for Reliance Jio. It directly tells that the spammer is not a telemarketer or the CDR (communication detail record) does not match or the subscriber only has opted for this preference or service call/SMS.
What I found through my UCC complaints and attempted resolutions is that Lodha, one of the biggest name in building and construction is not a telemarketer and hence all SMSes (spams text messages) sent by them should be considered as ‘gift’. In case of another spammer, ‘Radius’ builders and developer, I was told this was my opted preference on a zero DNC number!
As I mentioned earlier, I have opted for zero DNC, which means telemarketers should not send me any SMS or make any calls on my number. However, it does not happen. Despite the zero DNC, I continue to receive spam SMS and calls.
Another reason, why there is no action against spammers is non-availability of records. This is absurd, but yet most of the times used by telcos. For example, Vodafone have a funny way to handle DNC complaints. When you file a complaint (by sending an SMS to 1909 in this format: the unsolicited commercial communication, XXXXXXXXXX, dd/mm/yy), you will immediately receive an SMS providing complaint number. What follows is really funny. The customer care executive will call you and ask to provide all the details, which you had already shared through the SMS. What is weird, is many a times when I complained through Twitter, Vodafone told me that they could not reach me. This too when I was in our office in well-located and connected place like Dadar! But maybe they are admitting their poor coverage or network signal in this area.
Is there any solution for getting rid of telemarketing SMS or calls? Unfortunately, nothing within the ambit of TRAI or its rules and regulations. Few years ago, one mobile subscriber had won a compensation of Rs3 lakh from Airtel after filing case in the Maharashtra State Consumer Commission. Shashikant Ganga, a Mumbai-based lawyer had filed complaint about receiving text messages despite having opted for do not disturb (DND) facility. After hearing both the parties, the State Commission had awarded Rs3 lakh to Ganga and asked Airtel to pay this amount within 60 days, says a report from Times of India
But then how many subscribers will approach the consumer courts? This means, TRAI has to pull its socks and help mobile subscribers get rid of unwanted commercial communication or spam SMS and telemarketing calls. The regulator can do this by imposing heavy penalty on telemarketers as well as both the operators, sender and recipient for failing to filter spam messages or calls.