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TRAI-mandated spam filters catch OTP messages, hobbling SMS delivery

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Telcos started enforcing the Telecom Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations even as many merchants and payment gateways didn’t register their SMS formats in time, leading to one-time passcodes and other important transactional messages getting blocked from delivery. Telecom companies were required starting March 8 midnight to “scrub” SMS messages that were not registered with a blockchain system maintained by telcos as required by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Economic Times reported. Even Co-WIN vaccination OTPs were reportedly affected.

This may have been one of the largest-scale impacts of TRAI’s long-running whack-a-mole efforts against spammers. MediaNama team members had trouble with card payments as well as net banking yesterday, across state-owned and private banks. ET reported citing industry sources that around a fifth of the daily billion-strong commercial SMS messages were sinkholed by the scrubbing, leaving them undelivered.

The Cellular Operators Association of India said in a statement, “TSPs are following TRAI Regulations & have activated due process of Content scrubbing to address the issue of unsolicited commercial communication. TSPs has sent various communications to the principle entities to register their Content Template with the TSPs before March 7, 2021. We request all the PEs to get their content template registered with TSPs at the earliest, and help TSPs to address the issue of unsolicited commercial communication.”

Telcos have put out newspaper ads to make legitimate SMS senders aware of the regulations, but there are so many businesses that use one-time passcodes, and so many formats per business, that widespread failures occurred, hobbling SMS-based logins and payments. While some of these issues got fixed as some of the larger companies scrambled to duly register their SMS formats, the scale of the damage and remaining progress left is still unclear.

As a result of widespread disruption to multiple services and many consumers taking to social media to complain, on Tuesday, the TRAI defered the roll-out of the SMS scrubbing system by seven days. It said that telcos have to ensure that all SMS senders or  principle entities should be on-boarded within the next few days to avoid a similar situation.

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*Update (5:58pm). Updated with TRAI press release which deferred roll-out of SMS scrubbing by seven days.

**Update (11:28am): Added statement from COAI.

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