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India’s telecoms regulator rejects lawsuit re blockchain used to curb spam calls, SMS

SMS spam

In March, an Indian telemarketer filed a petition in the Delhi High Court against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) over its guidance to use blockchain for curbing spam communication, an Economic Times report said. TRAI has rejected the claims.

The issue concerns the blockchain TruBloq platform by Tanla Solutions, the IT provider working with telecoms firms to develop a telemarketing database. 

TRAI operates a ‘Do Not Disturb’ (DND) registry, and in 2018 passed the TCCCPR regulation, which mandates operators to create a database of commercial and business entities who wish to communicate with customers either via voice or SMS, as well as the content of the campaigns they run. This is separate from the National Telemarketers Register maintained by TRAI. 

The petitioner, Venets Media, claims Tanla itself is a significant telemarketer giving it an ‘unfair competitive advantage’ over other peers in the space. It alleges Tanla, runs an SMS solution, and would be able to monitor the promotional, transactional, and commercial service SMSes it is sending by crosschecking the blockchain database. 

The claim is that Tanla could potentially know the clients for whom Venets is running campaigns and the campaign details. The regulation appears to require this information to be recorded on the blockchain. (Summary here). However, if the data is encrypted and permissioned, Tanla should not have access.

TRAI’s response

However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) shot down the allegation, saying it is ‘unsubstantiated and holds no ground’. 

“The regulation (TCCCPR) does not prescribe any boundation on the Principal Entity or entities with telemarketing functions to register with or use services of any particular access provider. It has been left to be decided by the market forces,” TRAI said. 

Our interpretation of the statement is TRAI made the regulations, but they didn’t appoint Tanla. It’s up to the telecoms firms to choose the IT provider.

However, how many IT providers with experience in the telecoms sector have not been involved in SMS solutions?

TRAI added that Venets did not participate in the two-year-long consultation process when the regulation was being framed and has filed a lawsuit based on ‘imaginative’ concerns. Since 2018, TRAI has been exploring blockchain for spam communication with Microsoft, IBM and Tech Mahindra.

Hyderabad-based Tanla Solutions started off as a bulk SMS provider and currently provides cloud communications and value-added services. It developed the TruBloq solution to bring regulators, telecoms operators, their customers, telemarketers, and the companies that employ them on a single platform. For the spam solution, the company is the blockchain partner for Vodafone Idea, and state-run BSNL. Based on the Economics Times article, we previously reported Tanla worked with Bharti Airtel, but we believe that Airtel works with IBM for DLT. Reliance Jio is working with Tech Mahindra. 

TruBloq requires telemarketers to register themselves on the platform to send commercial SMS. The goal is to weed out unregistered telemarketers who use private numbers for commercial communication and ensure compliance with the TRAI DND registry. 

The scale of the problem

From 2011 to 2019, telecom services of 1.8 million unregistered telemarketers were disconnected, and 589,589 were blacklisted by service providers based on consumer complaints. Additionally, 16 registered telemarketers were also blacklisted.  

A few months ago, BSNL, which uses the TruBloq solution, issued a warning to its users to refrain from using private connections to make marketing calls. It warned that doing so would result in the termination of the connection. 

Another legal case over the same blockchain regulations

The company behind the payments platform Paytm has sued five telecoms firms alleging that they’ve failed to enforce the same TCCCPR regulation. The payments provider claims that its customer suffered losses through phishing scams because telecoms firms have failed to block the bad actors. In turn, Paytm claims reputational damages. The companies being sued are Airtel, Reliance Jio, MTNL, BSNL and Vodafone.