Have you even wondered about the continuous onslaught of unwanted commercial communication (UCC) or spam messages and unwanted calls from telemarketers? If yes, then data shared by the telecom regulator shows that there are over 230,000 entities registered as telemarketers with 11 telecom companies. However, the data shared by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) may be incomplete as the cumulative of Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel itself is nearly 275,000. It may also be possible that many entities have registered themselves with different telcos. But even in that case, the TRAI record considers it as a separate entry and this should have been added in the cumulative. Also remember, TRAI sharing this information does not mean that it will either act against some of the most notorious and dubious telemarketers or make sure that all numbers registered with do-not-call (DNC) registry will be filtered out by telemarketers. TRAI will do nothing to help telecom or mobile subscribers, period.
Responding to an application filed under Right to Information (RTI) by Sandeep Khurana, TRAI shared a weblink
that has information related to short message service (SMS) headers assigned to registered telemarketers by telecom companies. However, TRAI declined to provide information on action taken by it against telemarketers for violating the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations (TCCCPR).
The same TRAI, however told the Delhi Hight Court that it has imposed financial disincentives
ranging from Rs34,000 to Rs30 crore on BSNL, Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vodafone for failing to prevent UCC over their networks during April to June 2020. In September 2020, the Delhi HC had asked the telecom regulator to act in accordance with the law against unregistered entities and those persons not complying with its regulations to curb the problem of UCCs.
The portal also shares links of TSPs to provide information on SMS headers
. While TRAI shows 230,000 telemarketers, many of these entities have registered with more than one telco. Therefore, the number of telemarketers shown by TRAI and the total number of telemarketers registered with individual telcos are different.
After checking individual links of telcos as shared by TRAI, we found that Bharti Airtel Ltd and Bharti Hexacom Ltd (Airtel) has 137,467 entities, the highest among telcos, registered as user of distributed ledger technology (DLT). As expected, Jio is the next with 137,433 entities registered as telemarketer for the DLT.
The next entity with the highest number of registered DLT users is a relatively lesser known Quadrant Televentures Ltd (QTL). As per QTL's information, it has 128,731 clients, majority of whom are registered under transaction or service category.
However, my personal experience is very different. Quadrant Televentures, registered in Punjab circle has a SMS header code of QP, through which it sends out SMS, majority of which are UCC or spam messages. But more about it later.
The next telco is V-CON Mobile & Infra Private Ltd, which has 83,007 registered telemarketers using its services. Portals of VCON and Quadrant that share header information are replicas of each other.
However, even the portals of Vodafone Idea, and the State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd (MTNL) are the same in terms of design and functions. While BSNL has 6,695 registered telemarketers, Vodafone Idea and MTNL has 6,556 and 6,111 entities registered as DLT users or telemarketers that have been assigned a code for SMS.
One needs to share one’s email ID and name to access the link
though. It shows that there are 11 telecom service-providers registered with TRAI, and use the first character of their name as the code for sending out commercial communication through SMS. Further there are 22 circles, which have been assigned a code that is used in the SMS header.
According to TRAI, there are 11 telecom services-providers, but only eight operators have shared a link for checking SMS header information. Four companies, namely Aircel Ltd / Dishnet Wireless Ltd, Reliance Communications Ltd (RCom), Reliance Telecom Ltd (RTL) and Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) are in a crisis. Yet, they all remain active in TRAI's list of telecom services provider (TSP).
In 2018, insolvency proceedings were ordered against Aircel and Dishnet Wireless after these companies failed to service a debt of Rs20,000 crore. Two years before that, both the companies had entered into a spectrum trade agreement with Bharti Airtel Ltd and Bharti Hexacom Ltd. Recently, the Mumbai Bench of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) had approved the resolution plan submitted by UV Asset Reconstruction Co Ltd for Aircel.
According to information available on the company’s website, RCom owed financial creditors over Rs49,193 crore. Earlier this month, the Mumbai bench of NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) approved a resolution plan submitted by Reliance Jio for RCom unit Reliance Infratel Ltd. As per the plan approved by lenders, RCom and its unit Reliance Telecom Ltd will go to UV Asset Reconstruction whereas the tower unit, Reliance Infratel, will go to Jio.
In February 2020, the department of telecom (DoT) approved the merger of Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) consumer mobile business with Bharti Airtel. As part of the merger, Airtel absorbed Tata Teleservices' consumer mobile business operations in 19 telecom circles—17 under TTSL and the rest under Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Ltd. Airtel also agreed to take over a small portion of the unpaid spectrum liability of Tata Teleservices.
While we, as users, may feel great after registering for zero DNC (strictly no UCC), there is no respite since none of the telcos or the registered DLT entities uses any filter mechanism while sending their commercial communication. Several times through Twitter, I had questioned TRAI, the DoT and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad about this issue of zero filter mechanism by telemarketers. There is no reply, all these responsible entities prefer to keep mum on this issue.
In July 2019, Mr Prasad, in a written reply told the Lok Sabha that telecom resources of 1.81 million unregistered telemarketers have been disconnected and 580,000 were blacklisted by service-providers since 2011 following consumer complaints on pesky telemarketing calls. A penalty of Rs4.16 crore was deducted from the security deposit of registered telemarketers and deposited with the TRAI, the minister had said.
Unfortunately, the penalty paid by these telcos for the past eight years is miniscule compared with the revenues they earn from the telemarketing business. Till July this year, and before telcos decided to increase bulk SMS fee by 25%-30%, telemarketers were paying around 9-10 paise per SMS. Post-implementation of blockchain technologies to curb spam (!) the costs for sending a message for telemarketers have gone up to over 12.5-13.5 paise per SMS. Telcos implemented blockchain technology for curbing UCC as per the direction from TRAI, but it has hardly reduced the number of pesky calls or unwanted SMS for subscribers.
Everyday, Indian telcos send over 1,000 million SMS, majority of which are transactional messages. However, many a times, telemarketers and even the telcos label UCC messages as transactional and send it across to all subscribers, including those who are registered for zero DNC.
This brings us to the spam menace being created by Quadrant Televentures and how telecom regulator TRAI, DoT and even the minister in-charge overlooks the issue. Quadrant Televentures (formerly HFCL Infotel), a subsidiary of Videocon Telecom, which ran the latter’s mobile services in Punjab, ceased operations in February 2017. However, it continues to remain as a licensed telecom operator with its broadband operations in Punjab.
The below message is a clear fraud message and, yet, the entity was registered as telemarketer with Quadrant. This raises a big question on whether the know-your-customer (KYC) process is followed or not followed by the telco.
Here is one more spammer who is operating a Ponzi scheme to lure investors. The telco? Yes, you are right. It is Quadrant. Again, the same question about what KYC was followed by the telco while registering this fraud entity as a telemarketer?
Here is an example of how telemarketers are misusing the entire system. The SMS header 'LUXIND' is registered in the name of GSG Traders from Delhi. All UCC SMS received from this telemarketer are for selling luxury watches, which mostly are fake or duplicates. Further, the telemarketer keeps changing its SMS code every few days or after a complaint, and continues to spam even subscribers who are registered for do not call (DNC) service.
I have been complaining about the spam SMS generated by Quadrant Televentures through the past several years. However, the telcos seems to be untouchable, at least for the authorities. Last month, TRAI during a hearing before the Delhi HC submitted that it imposed a financial disincentive of Rs1.41 crore on Quadrant Televentures. But this amount is chicken-feed considering the money Quadrant must be earning from telemarketers. Considering there are 100 million SMSes sent to mobile subscribers across India, and assuming Quadrant has a share of just 10% of this, and earns just 12 paise per SMS, its revenues come to about Rs12 lakh per day or Rs3.60 crore a month! Of course, this is just an example based on assumptions and not the accurate or actual amount.
On 19 June 2020, TRAI issued a direction regarding the implementation of the telecom commercial communications customer preference regulations (TCCCPR), 2018, which makes it mandatory for all telemarketers or principal agency (that provides a commercial communication service through short message service- SMS) to register with a telecom service provider (TSP) and obtain a specific code or header.
FAQs on Unsolicited Commercial Communications (UCC) from TRAI
Is it permitted to use mobile number for Telemarketing activities?
No. In case a consumer uses his/her telephone connection to send promotional messages, his telephone connection will be liable for disconnection on the first complaint and his/her name and address may be blacklisted for a period of two years
What is the procedure of making a complaint?
In case any subscriber receives unsolicited commercial communication after expiry of seven days from the date of his registration in NCPR/DND, he/she may make a complaint to the service provider through voice call or SMS to toll free short code 1909 or through DND App within 3 days of receipt of such UCC. For registering the complaint through SMS, the subscriber should forward the SMS to 1909 in the following format: The UCC, XXXXXXXXX, dd/mm/yy where XXXXXXXXXX is the telephone number or header of the UCC.
What is the procedure for registration in NCPR?
Consumer can register his/her preference(s) in NCPR by dialling 1909 or by sending SMS to 1909. You can also register using TRAI DND 2.0 mobile app.
How can one avoid getting unsolicited commercial communication (UCC)?
Consumer can block all commercial communications (calls and SMSs both) or can selectively block UCCs from specified seven categories [1) Banking/insurance/ financial products/credit cards; 2) Real Estate; 3) Education; 4) Health; 5) Consumer goods and automobiles; 6) Communication/ Broadcasting / Entertainment/IT and 7 Tourism and leisure] by registering his/her preference in National customer Preference Register (NCPR) also known as DND Registry.
Currently, these headers are prefixed by two alpha characters separated by a hyphen from the header, which is used to identify originating access providers (OAP).
At present, fixed length of six alphanumeric characters are being used to assign headers and total nine characters including prefixes and separator are being used. For example, VM-DOTMUM, where V denotes the TSP as Vodafone, M is for its service area Mumbai, and DoT is department of telecommunications from Mumbai.
Typical format and structure of the header with prefixes is as below:
XY - ABCDEF
X denotes TSP (OAP);
Y denotes license service area (LSA of OAP)
ABCDEF is a header assigned to the principal entity.
TSP's Websites to check the header information
Using the above links, you can check telemarketers registered with the 11 telcos and their SMS header codes. There is no guarantee that it will help reduce your harassment from unwanted calls or SMSes, but, in case you want to take legal action or approach a consumer court, then this information about the telemarketer, the telco and the SMS code would be useful in pinning them down.