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SMS Rules

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Tuesday suspended new rules to check spam messages after their adoption beginning Monday sparked chaos.

Several banks rushed to the regulator after failure in generating SMSes and one-time passwords (OTPs) affected services such as net banking, Aadhaar-enabled transactions, credit card payments, railway ticket bookings and vaccine registrations.

“We are giving companies and government bodies seven more days to implement the regulations. Some banks reached out to us on Monday as their customers were facing problems in receiving OTPs. For Trai, customers are a priority, and we do not want them to face problems. But it is high time companies register themselves,” a top Trai official said on condition of anonymity.

The regulator had issued the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation in July 2018 to “effectively deal with the nuisance of spam”. The rules prohibit unregistered senders from initiating commercial messages, while registered companies are prevented from sending fraudulent messages to their customers.

In a statement on Tuesday, Trai noted that even though telcos implemented the scrubbing norms, some companies did not adopt them, leading to text messages getting dropped and transaction failures. Telecom operators, meanwhile, said several firms and government bodies faced glitches as they did not register their content template until 7 March despite multiple reminders.

“TSPs (telecom service providers) are following Trai regulations and have activated the due process of content scrubbing to address the issue of unsolicited commercial communication. TSPs have sent various communications to the principal entities to register their content template with TSPs before 7 March,” said S.P. Kochhar, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

“We request all principal entities to get their content template registered with TSPs and help address the issue of unsolicited commercial communication,” Kochhar added. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd are COAI members.

Rules mandate telcos to verify the content of every SMS with the registered text before delivering it to consumers. For this, telcos have adopted blockchain-based technology (or distributed ledger technology—DLT) that checks headers, or sender IDs, and content of every SMS originating from a registered source, while unregistered sources are rejected.

This means all transactional and promotional messages are supposed to have a standard template with header, preference and consent, which should be registered with the telecom operators.

“What happened was that some agencies that had not registered their template were sending messages and the DLT system rejected them. That is why many services were affected,” said another government official familiar with the matter. Every template has to be standardized for telcos as they are not permitted to read messages, he added.

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