India’s millions of mobile phone subscribers have won relief from a growing nuisance on the subcontinent -- unsolicited text messages. The crackdown by regulators targets the world’s fastest-growing mobile phone market.
From remote villages to crowded metros, the number of mobile phones in India has grown exponentially to more than 850 million in just over a decade.
But the communication revolution has a downside. Telemarketing companies used the gigantic base of subscribers to bombard potential customers with scores of text messages, selling everything from chocolates to credit cards, real estate to weight loss programs.
The unsolicited messages arrived anytime - early morning, at midday, on weekends, sometimes even at midnight.
In New Delhi, Renuka Taimni, 57, says it was a huge “headache.”
“They clog your inbox and you spend so much time just deleting them," she complains. "They arrive at odd hours, sometimes even in the middle of the night I wake up with a jerk and say God what is that sound and see some odd message in my inbox about some real estate God knows where and some health club.”
The pesky messages stopped coming earlier this week after India’s telecommunications regulator capped the number of messages that can be sent from a mobile phone at 100 per day. Some exemptions have been made, such as social networking sites, e-ticketing services and banks. Phone subscribers can dial a toll free number to block commercial calls and register on a “do not disturb” list.
Telecom analyst Mahesh Uppal calls it a significant step to curb the telemarketing practice. But he says there are still ways that the nuisance could continue.
“Those who don’t know about the DND, because it is not as widely publicized as it should be, those people will continue to get the stuff," Uppal says. "Plus those telemarketing players, who are small and informal, they will obviously escape through the net.”
This is the second effort by Indian authorities to put an end to the harassment of mobile phone subscribers by telemarketers. In 2007, it started a national “do not call” list, and imposed penalties on companies that called people who had registered. The number of calls was reduced - but the number of messages went up exponentially.
The latest crackdown on unsolicited texts has been welcomed by millions like college professor Nandini Guha.
“It’s a big relief, it is so nice not to be disturbed at the oddest time,” admits Guha.
India is the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market and second biggest in the world after China. Some of the lowest calling rates in the world have put mobile phones in the hands of millions of low income workers in the country.