It appear that India’s Election Commission has banned Bulk SMS in Andhra Pradesh, on account of the Assembly bypolls in the state. MediaNama has in its possession, an email sent by a telecom operator stating that:

“In view of AP Elections we are blocking All the AP levels from Enterprise SMSC nodes, As per Instruction from Chief Election Officer.

Start Date & Time – 10/06/2012  18:00 Hrs
End Date & Time – 12/06/2012  17:00 Hrs”

We’ve requested the telco for a copy of the notice received from the Election Commission. We weren’t able to find any such notice on its website.

Why Ban Bulk SMS?

This isn’t the first instance of Bulk SMS being banned for political or security reasons – on October 2010, Bulk SMS was banned from 22nd September to 4th of October 2010, due to the Ayodhya verdict. At that time, it was to prevent the potential instigation of mob violence.

In this case, there may perhaps be a concern that, as Deepak Shenoy points out, SMS might be used for campaigning, and just as advertisements are not allowed immediately before polls, SMS is also being disallowed. This is a worrying trend, because Bulk SMS is also being used as a bearer for communication on social networks – you have SMS only networks like Gupshup (which isn’t delivering in Andhra Pradesh till tomorrow evening), Google Talk allows users to continue chatting on SMS, some users may even be receiving their Twitter and Facebook updates on SMS. Apart from this, the TRAI has allowed publishers to send SMS alerts to readers as well.

So what happens when there are national elections? Will SMS be banned throughout the country? This appears to be a case of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

We’ll update in case we have more info.