New Do-Not-Call Regulations – Phonon View

The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preferences Regulations, 2018.Image result for do not call

Background

Unsolicited Commercial Communications (or UCC) have been the topic of many discussions. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (or TRAI) had first come out with a set of regulations in 2008, followed by another in 2010. The 2010 regulation or NCCP has been the governing law till date. Yet, the reality of the market remains that there is database-selling leading to huge amount of unsolicited communications in the form of SMS’ or voice calls.

TRAI conducted a consultation in September 2017 for reviewing the gaps in existing regulation. Phonon response to this can be found here.

In May 2018, the TRAI came out with draft guidelines. Phonon’s suggestion on these guidelines can be found here. In July, 2018, the TRAI came out with the final regulation.

The final regulation is a 113 page long regulation that seems to be paradigm changing and proposes the use of latest technologies including Distributed Ledger (same as used in Blockchain). But that also brings out significant questions.

Phonon is in the business of auto-dialers and robo-calling; apart from sending Bulk SMS’ for some of its customers. While there are still many questions in the regulation, we thought it relevant to share highlights and our view so far.

Phonon Understanding

Items mentioned in Italics are Phonon’s views to the regulation.

  1. Entities such as Phonon providing auto-dialers / robo-calling services need to register with TRAI. (Chapter II, Sr 4).Phonon is already registered telemarketer. We have sent notifications to all our Access Provider (telecom operators) regarding the use of auto-dialers.
  1. Code of Practice is to be developed and maintained by Access Providers for: (Chapter II, Sr. 5 and Schedule-I).
    A significant amount of control for calling will move to Access Providers instead of Aggregators.

    1. Various Entities (essentially Voice Call and SMS senders). This will include SMS Sender IDs to be of 11 digits alphanumeric. It will also include sharing CLI (or Customer Line Identification Numbers) for Promotional Voice Calls, Transactional Voice Calls and Service Voice Calls from 140-level.
      We await clarification if our Service or Transactions Voice Calls will also need to be sent from 140 series numbers or can these be treated as Inferred Consent Calls.
    2. Recording Customer Consent: Customer Consent will now need to be OTP validated by Access Providers. Customers can give consent as per type of message and day of week, time of day preferences for registration.
    3. Maintaining Templates: SMS’ templates will need to be shared and maintained with telecom operators. Telecom operators will label SMS’ as content starting with one of: <Transactional>, <Service>, <Promotional>. Specifically for Promotional Messages there will be a suffix for opt-out method.
    4. Voice Calling: Operators have been advised to take initiatives setup Calling Name (CNAM) display for users to know who is calling instead of phone numbers.
      This is not a mandate.
    5. Check Preferences Before Sending Out Commercial Communications: Operators have been asked to maintain scrubbing functionality at their end.
  1. Regarding Recording of Customer Preferences & Complaints: (Chapter VI & Schedule-I)
    1. Separate Preferences Can be Registered for: Voice, SMS, Auto Dialer (only messaging) or Auto-Dialer (with connectivity to agents).
      Auto Dialer (only messaging) is pure OBD with DTMF inputs.
      Auto-Dialer (with connectivity to agents) are services like Click-to-Call or OBD with agent connect. So calls with hold music while connecting to agents will need to be stopped.
    2. Preferences need to be recorded within 15 minutes of customer request (this used to be twice a week activity).
    3. Customers can give consent as per type of message and day of week, time of day preferences for registration.
    4. Complaint handling has been made a 24×7 activity.
    5. Complaints can be raised only within 3 business days of a UCC being received by customer.
  1. Access Providers have been given the opportunity of having differential pricing for Commercial Communication and non-Commercial / retail communication. (Chapter V, 22)
  1. New Category of Inferred Consent has been explicitly classified. This is based on a relationship with a Subscriber
    1. Within past last 12 months for a company-customer kind of a relationship.
    2. Within past 3 months for any Inquiry received.

Fully Blocked users can still be contacted based on inferred consent.

  1. Usage Caps have been brought in. In case a complaint is raised against a number belonging to an Unregistered TeleMarketer for outbound communication, the UTM if found sending communications in Bulk will be brought under Usage Cap of maximum 20 calls per day till the issue is resolved. Definition of Bulk Definition of bulk may be by counting communications over a period of 24 hours, over a week and over a month.
    However, the quantum for Bulk has not been specified.
  1. For voice calls metrics such as Abandoned Call Rates (less than 3%) and Silent Call Rate (less than 1%) Thresholds are maintained and to be tracked by Access Providers.
    Access Providers are not legally allowed to listen in to calls so how will they then monitor this?
  1. Terminating Access Provider will charge 5p per SMS whether Promotional or Service Message from the Originating Access Provider. SMS’ sent on behalf of Government (Central or State), Constitutional Bodies, TRAI or other agencies as may be defined by TRAI will not incur these additional charges.
  1. Messages sent by Political Parties do not come under Commercial Communications.
  1. All Smart Phone companies will need to have UCC app pre-installed on their phones.
  1. Financial disincentives have been listed for Access Providers for failing to curb UCC such as not being able to identify UCC or equivalent from Unregistered Telemarketers.
  1. Code of Practice. This is critical to operations and has to be finalized by Access Providers. Various thresholds and details for this are not yet provided.

Various questions arise:

  1. Are all customers now opted-out and will they need to opt-in for Explicit Consent (that is Consent other than inferred consent)?
  2. Do all Customers need to opt-in through OTP or can we have permission through other modes?
  3. Will all calls now need to be sent through 140-Service Lines or can Inferred Consent Calls still be sent through ordinary telecom lines?
  4. How will scrubbing be done on 140 lines?
  5. What are the exact monitoring criteria for Abandon and Silent Call rates and how will they be monitored?
  6. What are the thresholds of determining Bulk and non-Bulk Communication?
  7. Are Commercial Communications sent based on Inferred Consent to be sent only through Registered Telemarketing Lines?

Access Providers (or Telecom Operators) have been asked to come up with a Code of Practice for SMS’ and voice calls. We are awaiting further information regarding the progress of this. The timeline for Access Providers to Submit this to TRAI is 17-October-2018 and we should have more details prior to that.

TL;DR Implications for Phonon’s Customers

It is early days yet and till the Code of Practice is not made public most value statements would be pre-empting the moment. However, certain things we are clear about:

  1. For sending SMS messages and voice calls:
    1. Access Providers are now going to be the custodians of opt-in’s.
    2. Irrespective of messages being Promotional, Transactional or Service; templates will need to be shared with Access Providers. All campaigns will need to be tagged accordingly.
    3. Inferred Consent messages have been brought in as a new category. These are existing customers for upto 12 months from date of transaction or inquiries upto 3 months from date of transaction.
    4. Consent Registration, Scrubbing, Template Management will now be maintained by Access Providers.
      How Access Providers will maintain templates for voice messages is yet to be understood. Code of Practice will throw light on the same.
    5. Timelines for handling UCC complaints have been significantly shortened. Registration Degrees of Freedom to Consumer have been increased to include Days of Week, Time of Days, Mode of Communication.
    6. Whether all consumers will now be default opted-out for promotional messages is yet to be understood. 
  1. For sending SMS’:
    1. Sender ID can now be of upto 11 alphanumeric characters in length. This can lead to increase in enterprise two way messaging (only for customers within India and not on international roaming).
    2. An increase in costs for sending SMS’ is very possible.
    3. Messages will be tagged with prefix labels in message text for <Transactional>, <Promotional>, <Service>. Promotional messages will need to have an opt-out method suffix. These will be auto-added by Access Providers.
  1. For sending voice calls:
    1. Automated voice calls, robo-calls (calls without agents) have been added as means which will require additional registration with telecom operators. Assurances have to be given to maintain Abandon Rates and Silent Calls within thresholds.
    2. Telecom Operators have been asked to track key metrics such as Abandon Rates and Silent Calls. Therefore direct connect to agent based on Outbound Calls may need to be curbed.
    3. All calls will need to be sent from 140-number series, whether promotional, service or transactional.
    4. Whether Inferred Consent calls can be sent from non-140 numbers (or continue as present from non 140 numbers) will be known once the Code of Practice is setup.
    5. Sending of CNAM (caller ID name) instead of CLI for transactions in voice calls may become a possibility.
  1. Next steps: we are waiting for Access Providers to publish the Code of Practice. This is expected mid-October 2018 or earlier. Access Providers and TRAI are working closely to set this up.

Phonon is committed to ensuring a compliant and self-controlled regime for such communication. However, details of execution of the regulation are still awaited. We are in contact with our Access Provider partners and await further details on the Code of Practice.

We will keep updating this page with further information as they come to our attention. For any further details or queries please contact your Sales Account Manager or reach out to me at the below email address.

Ujwal Makhija

Phonon Communications Pvt Ltd
ujwal (at) phonon (dot) in

Last Updated: 11-Sep-2018