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SMS Check: TRAI proposes termination charges for commercial messages

November 30, 2011
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After implementing the regulation aimed at stopping unsolicited telemarketing calls in September 2011, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended the imposition of a termination charge of Re 0.05 per SMS on operators from whose networks the commercial messages originate. This is another step to prevent unwanted messages being sent to subscribers.

TRAI’s notification reads, “In order to deter the sending of promotional SMSs, TRAI recommends that a promotional SMS charge of Re 0.05 be levied. The originating access provider may collect the promotional SMS charge from the registered telemarketer.”

The recommendation is aimed at exercising stricter control over telemarketers as mobile users continue to receive unsolicited messages despite TRAI’s efforts (including penalties of Rs 25,000 to Rs 250,000 on defaulters) to stop them.

Moreover, to make telemarketing firms identifiable, TRAI has prescribed that their numbers should begin with 140 and has restricted the number of such messages to 100 per day per SIM, except on festivals. However, these regulations have had little impact as these SMSs are reportedly being generated online and are, therefore, exempt from the limit.

In early October 2011, Kapil Sibal, minister for communications, confirmed that unsolicited messages were still being sent. But as these messages are generated on the internet, the government has little control over them.

TRAI’s recommendation of imposing extra termination charges has faced criticism from CDMA telecom operators.  The Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) has opposed the recommendation as it feels the move is anti-consumer and anti-competitive, and is not based on any scientific technical study. In a letter to TRAI’s chairman, S.C. Khanna, general secretary, AUSPI, wrote: “Some incumbent GSM operators propagate high termination charges for calls as well as SMSs as this favours them. Imposition of any termination charge on SMSs will be anti-competitive, anti-consumer and not based on costs. Already, the prices of bulk SMSs are Re 0.015-Re 0.02 per message and if they shoot up to Re 0.07 per SMS, this important marketing avenue will be eliminated.” This, according to Khanna, will result in job losses.

TRAI, however, has denied allegations of favouring GSM operators. Earlier, the regulator had issued a directive specifying certain categories of SMSs as transactional messages, which were exempt from the 100 SMSs per day limit. These include dealers of telecom operators, DTH operators, e-ticketing agents and social networking sites.

However, in a recent notification, TRAI has increased the number of SMSs per day from 100 to 200. It has also increased the number of categories of SMSs in the definition of transactional messages. These include:

•  Information sent by e-commerce agencies in response to e-commerce transactions made by their customers.

•  Information sent by a company or a firm or depository participant registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India/Insurance Regulatory Development Authority/Association of Mutual Funds in India/National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange Limited/Multi Commodity Exchange of India Limited to clients pertaining to their accounts.

• Information sent by a registered company to its employees or agents or to its customers pertaining to services or goods to be delivered to such customers.

TRAI is hopeful that its efforts will help subscribers access useful information without being disturbed by unwarranted calls and messages.

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