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Tata Indicom in bed with spammers, customers be damned

Suw Charman-Anderson in a piece on Firstpost wrote yesterday that TRAI's 100 SMS limit won't solve the spam problem. She said TRAI needs to work with the mobile phone providers to tackle the problem.

My first reaction was to chuckle and say to myself that perhaps she had no clue about Indian operators. Dhaval Valia does. And perhaps TRAI does too, which is why the almost Stalinist 100-SMS limit. As for me, here's my experience with Tata Indicom and TRAI's new National Call Preference Registry (NCPR) system to reduce the menace of SMS spam.

I switched to Tata Indicom when MNP was introduced. Vodafone tried it's best to trip me up, but that's another story. Here's the thing, I'm happy with all aspects of Tata Indicom service — great network, no congestion, no billing issues. Except SMS spam and telemarketing calls. I kept cursing Dr Batra, only to realise that the problem didn't lie with him happily spamming me and millions of other Indians warning us about hair loss.

 Tata Indicom in bed with spammers, customers be damned

I kept cursing Dr Batra, only to realise that the problem didn't lie with him happily spamming me and millions of other Indians warning us about hair loss. Reuters.

The problem lay with Tata Indicom: When I checked status of my number on TRAI's new Customer Preference website I was informed my number wasn't on the NCPR. Aha! Which is why I get over 30-plus SMS spam messages from shady builders in Noida to con artists who tell me I've won "500000 pounds (UK)"in a lottery I never entered. And many annoying calls everyday hawking everything from insurance to club memberships.

Please note, I'm not blaming Tata Indicom for this — perhaps during the porting process the number was taken off the earlier DND Registry. Perhaps it was Vodafone's parting gift to me for porting out.

But that's where the fun began. The minute I realised this, I immediately sent an SMS as per TRAI's prescription to cure SMS spam: START 0 to 1909. Within a few seconds, I got an SMS back which said:

"Thank you for requesting Fully Block service. Please reply with YES or NO within 24 hrs. with request id XXXXX"

When I sent back an SMS with YES Request ID XXXXX, I got a message saying:

"Sorry please send a valid message and try again."

Huh?! I'm scratching my head and asking myself what's a valid message. So, I call 1909, only to be told twice in the span of over an hour that their systems are down. And then something miraculous happens. I get an SMS which cheerfully states:

"Hi! Do allow us 7 days to process your request for removal from Customer Preference. Your DND De-Activation Registration No is :TTLDND088XXXXXX dated 26-SEP-11 at 12:06 hrs. "

I know I've not asked for this — I'm actually trying hard to get the very opposite done. I call 1909 after a few hours and the Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) cheerfully informs me my request for DND de-activation has been taken and the number has been de-activated!. It goes on to say DND can be activated again only after 90 days.

In a fit of apoplectic rage I dial 1909 again and am connected to a customer care executive who gives me a whole new story. He says my request for DND has been taken and in all of 7 days I can kiss SMS spam goodbye. He repeats it for me. But the SMS and the IVRS on 1909 say the exact opposite. So I sent Start 0 again to 1909, only to run into the same invalid message wall that Tata Indicom has so conveniently erected.

Now, here's the thing. According to TRAI guidelines operators are supposed to respond to all SMS messages asking to start or de-activate DND. Tata Indicom faithfully did it when I tried to activate it and then tripped me up on the invalid message issue, but even if I had accidentally asked for DND to be deleted when dialling 1909, they didn't send me any SMS requesting for a confirmation. They just went ahead and happily did it.

Confusion. Contradictory information across various channels. I'm not sure why — perhaps it's because they don't really want to end SMS spam and telemarketing calls, because that brings them revenues and Tata is supposedly a big player here. Or perhaps it's because their systems are a complete mess. I hope it's the latter--after all this was the same operator where till a month after I ported I couldn't access their customer service numbers because their IVRS refused to recognise my number as a Tata Indicom number. After many e-mails being exchanged, they finally managed to update their IVRS after a month.

I asked Tata Indicom and gave them an opportunity to comment so that their perspective could be told here. All I got was an assurance that my issue would be taken care of (I have since got an SMS stating that they respect my privacy and to give them 7 days to process my request for Fully Block service). But no comments or an explanation.

So, perhaps it's the former after all. Sleep with the spammers, customers be damned. Now you know why TRAI doesn't seem to trust the operators to end this menace.

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Updated Date: Sep 30, 2011 17:44:40 IST