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Don’t call us, please

For the past two weeks, Padma Gopal, whose car insurance expires on August 14 this year, has been getting at least three calls every day from insurance companies offering her great renewal deals. None of the calls is from the firm her car is insured with.

Sounds familiar'

But Gopal can stop fretting. Relief from irritating telemarketing calls could be round the corner, with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issuing, on June 7 this year, regulations to set up a national do-not-call registry (NDNCR) by end-August. The government has said it will come into force on September 5. The registry will have a list of numbers to which telemarketing calls shouldn’t be made or SMSes sent. If telemarketers call anyone on the list, they would face penalties.

Here’s how the NDNCR will help make life easier, even though it doesn’t as yet have legislative backing as in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia.

Fifteen days after the establishment of the NDNCR, telephone and mobile phone companies will have to set up do-not-call (DNC) lists (which private telecom companies already have). Anyone not wanting to receive telemarketing calls will have to instruct their respective telecom companies to include their number in the list.

Don’t, however, expect the calls to stop overnight. Telecom companies have been given 10 days to verify that the request is from the subscriber, who’ll get a registration number, and another five days to log this number in their DNC list. This list will be submitted to the NDNCR.

On a parallel track, telemarketers have been told to register themselves with the Department of Telecom (DoT) by end-August. They also have to give an undertaking to their telecom service providers that they will not make unsolicited commercial calls. Otherwise, they won’t get new connections and existing connections may be snapped.

Telemarketers also have to register with the NDNCR, to which they must submit the lists of numbers either given by their clients — banks, insurance firms or others — or purchased. The NDNCR will then remove numbers that figure in its database from the telemarketer’s list (called scrubbing). Calls still made to numbers on the NDNCR will lead to a warning the first time, a fine the second time and disconnection the third time.

TRAI officials admit it will be difficult to make all telemarketers register with the NDNCR. So it has roped in the Reserve Bank of India which, on July 3, 2007, asked banks and credit card firms to use only telemarketers registered with DoT. They’ve also been told to give a list of their existing telemarketers to the Indian Banks Association, which will forward it to the DoT. In 2006, RBI had told banks and credit card firms to set up DNC lists. This was in the wake of the Supreme Court’s notices to the central government, cellular operators and banks in February 2005 following a public interest litigation against such calls. Most of the private banks and some public sector banks complied.

Similar steps for other users of telemarketing — car firms, insurance firms and consumer goods firms — aren’t in place, though. That is perhaps because barring the insurance industry, there is no single regulator for these companies.

The compulsory registration provision should solve the problem of telemarketers changing their numbers to make calls.

But what of firms that provide employees with mobile phone connections (taken in their individual capacity) and reimburse them the cost of calls made from those phones'

TRAI officials admit this would be a difficult loophole to plug. But they’re banking on the fact that telemarketers currently waste time and effort on making random calls. Getting their lists scrubbed will reduce this. Agrees Madhivanan B., head, customer service and phone banking, ICICI Bank: “This effort will help. Telemarketers have too much to lose if they violate these guidelines.”

Those listed in the NDNCR receiving unsolicited marketing calls can complain to their telecom service provider, quoting their registration numbers. They will be given a complaint number within seven days, after their registration with NDNCR is confirmed and once it is verified that a call was received from the number.

There’s a catch, though. Few landline subscribers have caller identification-enabled phones. Such subscribers cannot complain since they have no way of knowing the caller’s number. Anup Singh has faced this problem. He was registered with one private bank’s DNC list but continued to receive promotional calls from the group on his landline as well as his mobile phone. While the number of calls on his mobile phone reduced after he provided the bank with the numbers, the calls on his landline continue.

TRAI admits there isn’t an easy way out. Even if a mobile phone subscriber does not have a caller identification facility, says an official, if he or she provides the date and time of the call, the number can be traced from call data records, which most landlines do not have.

If a complaint relates to a number from its own network, the telecom company has to check if the call is from a telemarketer and take the matter up with the firm. If the call is from another network, the complaint will be forwarded to that company.

The TRAI regulations may just end up blocking all customer service calls, even follow-up calls about car servicing or refrigerator repair. Realising that customers may be open to receiving some kinds of calls, TRAI has said that nine months after the NDNCR comes up, customers should be given the option of specifying what kind of calls they want allowed or blocked.

That’s the next level of sophistication, provided the first level works well.

How to go about it

People can instruct their telecom service provider to put their numbers on the do-not-call list.

Phone / mobile firm will provide a registration number within 15 days after verifying the request.

Each phone company will submit a list of telephone numbers to the NDNCR.

Those who are registered but are still receiving calls can complain to their service provider. They need to quote their registration number and give the phone number from where the call was received.

Service providers will give a complaint number within seven days after confirming the registration number and verifying that a call was indeed made.

Service providers will take action if the call was made from the same network or forward the complaint to the network from which it originated.

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