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TRAI orders bulk SMS filtering system to resume in full on 1 April

26 Mar 2021

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued notices to the nation’s mobile operators to resume blocking SMS via so-called ‘content scrubbing’ filters from 1 April 2021, the Economic Times reports. The measures were introduced as part of a 2018 regulation to reduce unsolicited commercial communications, ‘spam’ messages and fraud by requiring senders to comply with regulatory provisions to send bulk communications. The system requires telcos to verify SMS content with a template pre-registered by the sender before delivering the message.

Implementation was delayed until 8 March this year to allow the relevant companies to prepare, but the filtering system was halted just a day later amidst widespread disruption. The TRAI noted at the time that legitimate communications were being blocked by the filters as the principal entities (i.e. senders of bulk communications such as banks) had failed to comply with the regulations. To protect consumer interests, the TRAI suspended use of the system and ordered telcos to assist principal entities to ensure that legitimate traffic is not blocked. After a seven-day reprieve the system was partially reintroduced from 17 March: the content scrubbing system was reactivated, but messages that failed to meet the requirement were not blocked.

A week later, the TRAI issued another statement instructing the principal entities to comply with the rules, placing blame for the earlier disruption with the senders. ‘It was observed that some of the principal entities have not fulfilled the requirements as envisaged TCCCPR, 2018, even after two years, despite being fully aware of the regulations and the consequences,’ the watchdog explained, adding: ‘Unfortunately, despite repeated communication, all major banks and big telemarketers sending SMS have failed to fulfil regulatory requirements.’

In the most recent missive, the TRAI noted that ‘sufficient opportunity has been given’ to the principal entities, and the scrubbing system will be fully activated again from 1 April. Principal entities such as telemarketers have appealed to the courts to halt the system, however, saying that compliance with the TRAI’s ‘rigid’ norms is not feasible. The founder of bulk messaging firm Shivtel Communications said it had seen an 80% failure rate during the initial implementation, and explained the company’s difficulty, saying: ‘This is not a one-time compliance task, there are close to 100,000 templates which flow into the system every day.’ In a similar vein, a senior official at Kaleyra was quoted as saying that ‘ensuring 100% compliance for one billion SMSes per day across India is a next to impossible task.’

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