Considering the growing dissatisfaction among consumers, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has come out with a Consultation Paper with the aim of reducing the bulk of Unsolicited Commercial Communications (UCC). UCC includes telemarketing calls, SMSes or other commercial or marketing messages.
TRAI has sought public comment on the mechanism that it should put in place to reduce such calls and has proposed solutions that would require the cooperation of telemarketers, service providers, consumers, and the government. The Authority’s proposals involve setting up some type of do-not-call register where subscribers can list and hence avoid getting telemarketing calls and SMSes.
The Authority has also sought public comments on who should be responsible for stopping telemarketing calls, i.e., the service providers or telemarketers, and what type of penalties should be imposed on do-not-call violators.
The growing and large subscriber base is a huge potential target for advertising and marketing activities. “Ubiquitous access to telephones has led to the creation of a large telemarketing industry – where salespersons call telephone subscribers indiscriminately to market goods and services. The majority of telemarketing phone calls are unsolicited as the called party has not given prior permission to the telemarketer to contact them,” TRAI observed. The Authority also noted that such calls disturbed a large number of subscribers by forcing them to respond to the telephone and invading their privacy.
However, TRAI made it clear that it did not intend to ban telemarketing altogether but to regularise it. “The Authority’s intention is not to ban telemarketing activity in itself. Indeed, a portion of the population wants to learn about different products and services, and telemarketing is a large industry that has generated useful employment. The specific intention behind this consultation is to reduce the number of telemarketing calls to people who do not wish to receive them, and not to stop telemarketing altogether. Indeed, the telemarketing industry will benefit from this move because it will reduce the number of calls they will need to make to reach interested potential customers,” TRAI pointed out.
The aversion of many subscribers towards invasion of privacy and the nuisance of telemarketing has found expression at different fora. Over the past year, commercial unsolicited calls have engaged the time and attention of the Rajya Sabha, the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court, the Reserve Bank of India, and the State Commission (Consumer) of Delhi.
TRAI has also received numerous subscriber and consumer complaints about unsolicited calls and SMSes. There have thus been attempts to resolve this problem, but the current solutions are fragmented and have not been comprehensive.
Many countries around the world have implemented mechanisms to reduce unwanted UCC. The US, for example, has implemented national do-not-call registers that allow subscribers to specify that they do not want telemarketers to call them. If a telemarketer makes a call to a person listed on the do-not-call register, s/he faces a significant fine. Other countries such as Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Hong Kong have also begun or are planning similar measures. Many of these mechanisms involve both regulation and legislation.