SMS Opt-in vs NDNC in India

We have been having some issues over the past few months with people subscribing to MyToday services because of what I believe is a misinterpretation of the National Do-Not-Call (NDNC) rules by a mobile operator.

At the heart of the issue is whether an explicit SMS Opt-in done by a subscriber overrides an NDNC registration, or should it be the other way round. Logic would dictate that even if I have registered for NDNC, I should still be able to opt-in to any SMS service that I desire. Else, I am going to have to unregister myself from NDNC to opt-in to an SMS service — opening myself to every spammer in the country, and thus creating the very regime of spam that NDNC was supposed to have avoided in the first place.

Well, this logic that Opt-in should override NDNC doesn’t seem to hold as far as Airtel is concerned in the case of MyToday. Airtel has blocked the longcodes we use for people to subscribe (9845398453 and 9845298452) because they received some complaints from people. [We did try and address the issue as to why people would complain, but that didn’t seem to help.] What we are being told is that the 3.7 million MyToday database needs to be scrubbed to remove all NDNC-registered users (about 10% of the base). This just doesn’t make sense to me.

The alternatives Airtel has given us: either get in writing from the 370K subscribers that they want to get MyToday SMS channels, or get TRAI to issue a clarification on the NDNC rules they have issued. I don’t know which is more impossible! I have tried speaking to TRAI officials. All they say is that this is an issue between the operator (Airtel) and NetCore. So much for that.

The net result: existing MyToday subscribers cannot opt-out (because their numbers are blocked), and new ones cannot opt-in. I don’t know if we have been singled out for our pioneering services in India, but all I can say is that this ridiculous situation needs to be resolved. We are caught between Airtel and TRAI, and it has been like that for the past couple months.

The irony is that a service like ours which has showcased innovation and new monetisation opportunities to the world (I presented this at both the GSM World Congress in Barcelona in Feb and the Web 2.0 Summit a couple weeks ago) is not being allowed to function properly in our own home country!

Here is a presentation I had sent to Airtel and TRAI outlining the issues involved and giving recommendations on the way forward.

As I have said before, India has the opportunity to lead the world in the creation and monetisation of mobile data services. This is important if the telcos are to counter falling voice revenues. But if we have short-sightedness like this, we are not going to get anywhere.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.