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Do TRAI’s Amended SMS Spam Regulations Exempt Free Content Subscriptions From DND?

By Anupam Saxena and Nikhil Pahwa

A couple of weeks ago, the Indian telecom regulator TRAI amended the SMS Spam Regulations to include more messages under the ‘Transactional Messages’ category. It has said that the list would now include ‘information sent by a registered company or charitable trust or society or telecom service provider, pertaining to its activities to a telecom subscriber in response to a verifiable request of such subscriber‘.

What we found interesting here is the inclusion of a registered company in the guidelines, though there is no clarity on what the TRAI means by a registered company, and what the process for registration is. Still, it could mean that there’s an opportunity for free-content subscription companies, or those that integrate web and SMS can provide services to customers registered on India’s Do Not Call registry. We’ve written to the TRAI for a clarification on both the process and the definition of a registered company, and will update in case we receive a response. Here’s what the conditions for a registered company, charitable trust or telecom service provider are, in order to send a DND customer a message:

– Sends information to the subscriber only after receipt of a verifiable request from him.
– Informs the subscriber through SMS, that the information requested for will be provided for a maximum period of six months, unless renewed and also the procedure for the subscriber to opt out at any time during the six months period from receiving such information.
– Shall obtain a fresh request from the subscriber every six months for continuing to receive such information
– Intimate to the subscriber at least once in thirty days about the procedure to opt out from receiving such information
– Provide details regarding procedure to opt out from receiving such information in every advertisement wherein regarding the facility is published by it in any media
– Maintain a record of the request made by the subscriber for receiving such information for at least three months and provide such record as and when required by the Authority
– Does not send any objectionable, obscene, unauthorized content, message or communication which is against public interest or national security or which infringes any copyright, intellectual property right etc, and the information does not contain any content which may violate any law of the land

The announcement categorically states that no unsolicited commercial communication or promotional message should be mixed with the information sent to the subscriber through telecom resources allotted for the purposes of sending Transactional messages and that such company or trust or society or telecom service provider shall use the proper header provided by it. This means that monetization through advertising in the footer of the message is out the window.

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In another announcement, the TRAI has exempted messages sent by social networking services from the 200 SMS per day limit. It said that messages sent by Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, SMS GupShup, Talk.to, Ibibo, Nokia Life Tools, txtweb and Fropper to members pertaining to activities relating to their accounts based on their verifiable options, will be excluded from the 200 SMS per day per SIM limit. We’ve never heard of Talk.to, and weren’t aware that Fropper still exists, but note that these are all prominent players in the industry. The TRAI still isn’t startup-friendly, is it?

Frankly, as pleased as we are about the significant reduction in spam, we’re not in favor the TRAI acting as a gatekeeper for registration to allow provisioning of services; arbitrariness leads to business uncertainty.

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