The following post is part of a new series that brings a fresh perspective to global news from our team of foreign correspondents
India’s telemarketing industry may have cooked its own goose when it spam-called the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, during critical government negotiations, offering him a really, really good deal on a home loan.
Mr. Mukherjee, so the story goes, was in sensitive talks with opposition leaders in August 2010 when his cell phone rang. Expecting an important call, he answered, listened, then frowned, snapped “I am in a meeting!” and hung up. When Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj asked who it was, he told her about the loan offer, saying, “They don’t spare even me.”
The incident made gossip columns in Delhi, and spurred then-telecommunications minister A. Raja into action that much of the Indian public had been hoping he would take for years, drafting new regulations on spam calls and text messages. Until today, a typical urban cellphone user received at least a dozen messages a day offering “sauna slim belts,” astrology advice, public speaking courses, and great deals on new condominiums.
Now Mr. Mukherjee and every other phone user should feel some relief. A “Do not call” list promises protection from telemarketing for all who sign up – and 153 million people have done so already.
In a twist – and a likely first for the global telecom industry – the regulation puts the onus not only on telemarketers, but also on carriers, to make sure the spam rules aren’t broken. Violators will be fined.
However, the new regulation has another wrinkle that many Indian cellphone users are less pleased about: it stops the mass-texting marketers by limiting text messages to 100 a day per SIM card. That, as any 14-year-old can tell you, is not as many messages as it might seem. The Indian media have been full of interviews with anguished would-be texters, most of them students, who have the “1,000 texts a day” plan from their carrier and wonder how they will now keep in touch if cut off after merely 100. The Times of India said of government’s new rule that “instead of throwing out the bath water – telemarketers – it has chucked the baby – the short messaging service (SMS) that is a boon for people who communicate in large groups.”
As with all else in this country, the critical part of this new regulation lies in enforcement: telemarketers can be fined 100,000 rupees (C$2,100) the first time they call or SMS someone on the do-not-call list; 500,000 rupees the second time and 1 million rupees each time thereafter. Carriers will also be fined, in theory. But until a few violators are actually made to pay up, Mr. Murkherjee should perhaps leave his phone off in meetings.