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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spam through SMS on mobile phones is back

NEW DELHI: Unsolicited text messages selling everything from cheap holidays to homes are once again making a mockery of the government's bid to restrict spam on mobile phones.India's telecom regulator had in September 2011 allowed cellular operators to charge five paise for every promotional short text message sent on their networks to deter advertisers from defying an earlier ban."Spam messages from unknown mobile numbers have increased substantially," a provider of bulk text messages told ET on condition of anonymity. Telemarketing companies that are not registered with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) are using new mobile phone SIM cards and internet portals that offer bulk messaging services to beat curbs imposed by the regulator. 

"Being outside the ambit of Trai's regulations, these companies are not liable to pay telecom service providers a termination charge for every short text message sent in bulk," the person quoted earlier explained. More than 160 million cell phone users signed in on Trai's National Customer Preference Register, what was earlier know as Do-Not-Call, had heaved a sigh of relief when unsolicited commercial calls and messages ebbed after the telecom regulator's September announcement, but the pesky commercials were back within weeks. A senior executive of a telecom company said there is no law limiting the number of SIM cards a subscriber can purchase, highlighting the scale of the problem facing authorities. An individual is allowed to purchase up to nine SIM cards through the normal verification process, said K Srinivas, cellular operator Bharti Airtel's head of consumer business. 

The verification becomes more stringent for consumers seeking more cards. 
For postpaid customers buying in bulk, which is usually the case when it is a business entity, the order is taken on the company's letterhead. Also available for a paltry sum is the database of mobile phone users signed in on Trai's Do-Not-Call registry. A Delhi-based message service provider said the Do-Not-Call registry database is available for as little as Rs 9,000. "For this payment, the company will send a minimum of one lakh messages a day to these consumers and ensure a response. Messages will go from a mobile number, which means that any customer will read it at least once," the telemarketer said. 

Another bulk text message provider said advertisers are willing to pay a premium to send promotional messages to subscribers registered for the Do-Not-Call service. "These are the potential customers for most advertisers. Since they know they are not supposed to send out promotional messages to these subscribers, they are willing to pay more." Another tool in the hands of telemarketers is a software being provided by some internet portals that enables users to send messages to multiple phone numbers, including those on the Do-Not-Call registry. 

While unsolicited messages from unregistered telemarketers is on the rise, that from registered telemarketers has fallen significantly. "Promotional message traffic has come down to less than 50% of what it was earlier," said Veerchand Bothra, chief operating officer of Mumbai-based telemarketing company Netcore. Bothra attributed the drop to more users registering on the improved Do-Not-Call service and the five paise per message termination charge. While most mobile service providers have opted out of the bulk messaging business, Tata Teleservices and Loop Mobile continue to offer these services. 

A senior executive at Tata Tele, however, said the termination charge has impacted business. "Earlier, when a deal would be for a million messages at a lower price, there was a possibility of playing on margin. But it is not so anymore," he said. On its part, Trai continues to penalise companies flouting norms. Till April, the regulator had issued 44,810 notices to unregistered telemarketers and disconnected more than 28,000 telephone connections.



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