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TRAI's SMS fiasco: Who's to blame?

Manu Kaushik     March 9, 2021

It's a regulation that is supposed to curb unsolicited messages (SMS), but the TCCCPR (Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation) has created a bigger mess. In the current system where people get SMSes for everything - Aadhaar authentication, OTP for transactions, flight/train status and even appointment with doctor or Covid vaccine - the implementation of TCCCPR regulations through telecom operators (on March 8) seems like a case of bad planning.

Within hours, consumers reported issues with getting all kinds of SMSes on their phones because reportedly the filters used for blocking unsolicited messages also interfered with the genuine messages.

Experts say that the issue cropped up because a lot of companies who send these commercial SMSes (also called principle entities or PEs) failed to register with telcos ahead of the March 7 deadline. As per TRAI regulations, the PEs are required to register with telcos to assert their identity. Not just that. The PEs are also required to register the headers with telcos to segregate different types of messages and block messages with dubious headers. This issue came to light last year when Paytm alleged that telcos like Airtel, BSNL and Jio were not blocking entities who were sending fraudulent messages to customers by using headers identical to Paytm.

"We request all the PEs to get their content template registered with TSPs at the earliest, and help TSPs [telecom service providers] to address the issue of unsolicited commercial communication," said S.P. Kochhar, Director General at COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India), in a statement.

The regulation also mandates telcos to adopt distributed ledger technology (or blockchain) to promote innovation. TRAI believes that this regulation can get PEs to strike better deals with telcos as they would be dealing with targeted customer base in addition to keeping their customer data secure.

"The telcos have been telling these telemarketers about the need for registration but since some of them have been operating through both legal and illegal channels, it would be tough for them to fully comply with the regulations. TRAI needs to sort this issue with telcos, and find a quick solution," says a telecom expert.

As per some reports, TRAI has temporarily suspended the regulations in the wake of inconvenience caused to millions on the first day of the implementation. Though the regulations seem quite robust; the telecom regulator has been consistently falling behind the curve when it comes to dealing with the growing menace of unsolicited messages.

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