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DoT asks telco’s for list of operating short codes; Too late for common short code registry?

India’s Department of Telecom has asked telecom operators to submit a list of operating short codes by the 7th of March 2014*, and told them that they must submit updated details of short codes on the 1st of April and the 1st of October every year. It’s worth remembering that media companies like Indiatimes (with 58888) and STAR (5-7827 or 5-STAR on the keypad), Zee (57575) have invested heavily in creating brands that were dependent on specific short codes. We had even compiled a list of short codes in India back in 2008.

Setting Up Common Short Code Registry?

We wonder if this is the first step in the direction of freeing short codes from the clutches of telecom operators, and creating that common short code registry idea that the TRAI has discussed a few times in the past:

2009: The TRAI had mooted the idea of an Other Service Provider and a Common Short Code registry in its draft recommendations on Mobile VAS in 2009, but subsequently rendered this proposal lame in the final recommendations. These recommendations were never accepted and implemented by the DoT.

2011: In another consultation process, the TRAI had once again asked about setting up a framework for allocation of common short codes: Question seven of the consultation paper:

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Q7. (i) Does existing framework for allocation of short codes for accessing MVAS require any modifications? Should short codes be allocated to telecom service providers and VAS providers independently? Will it be desirable to allot the short code centrally which is uniform across operators? If yes, suggest the changes required along with justification.
(ii) Should there be a fee to be paid for allotment of short code?

In our response to this consultation process, we (MediaNama) had recommended the following changes, for helping create an open, independent and vibrant mobile VAS ecosystem:

a. Separation of ownership of identity of the Digital Service Provider/MVAS company from provisioning by Access Service Provider/Telecom Operator by creating a Common Short Code Registry, governed by a Common Short Code Registrar. At present, Digital Service Providers/MVAS companies do not own the short codes they operate.
b. Separate billing for services/content from access charges, to bring transparency and standardization in consumer billing, and independence for the Digital Service Provider/MVAS company from Access Service Provider/Telecom Operator. We would recommend the removal of the existing revenue share mechanism as a means to ensure ubiquitous pricing mechanisms across digital platforms.
c. Enforce provisioning of independent mechanism for verification of billing, in order to address MIS issues, and bring billing for content and services in line with Mobile and Online Banking guidelines from the Reserve Bank of India, as well as regulations governing payment service providers.

Download our recommendations here.

Too late?

Short codes may not be particularly significant, what with the decline of SMS (and premium SMS) and the advent of mobile Internet, and much of the media company activity having shifted to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Media companies wanted to, and had the option of owning and running their own short codes for a fee, but the closed nature of the ecosystem (I’ve heard stories of telecom operators refusing to activate a particular short code, threatening to cancel a short code, and execs having to go from circle to circle to active a short code with a single operator) has led to its demise. I still go back to the great idea behind Indiatimes’ Follo service, and how telecom operators missed the opportunity of pushing content consumption among subscribers.

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Open ecosystems win because they allow companies the freedom to experiment, to iterate quickly, and serve consumers with the content they want. The telecom operator controlled short code ecosystem has failed, the Internet had won (and there’s now an effort to create walled gardens there)

*Within 10 days of February 25th 2014. Download the notification here.

Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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