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India's Telecom Regulator to Combat Spam Calls with AI Technology


India's telecom regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), is set to implement new rules to combat unwanted communication calls and messages starting from May 1, 2023. These rules require all telecom companies, including Bharti Airtel, Jio, Vodafone Idea, and BSNL, to implement AI spam filters in their call and SMS services. The AI spam filters will identify and block fake and promotional calls and messages from various sources, which are often used by scammers to cheat consumers out of their money.


The purpose of these new rules is to protect consumers from fraud and harassment resulting from spams. It is also a significant step towards combating the increasing cases of spams and the nuisance caused by such calls and messages to customers. Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio are among the first telecom companies to have agreed to implement the AI filter service, with Airtel confirming this in an official statement and Jio expected to launch the service soon.


Earlier this year in February, TRAI had a meeting with service providers such as Bharti Airtel, Jio, and Vodafone Idea (VIL) to discuss the problem of unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) detection systems. TRAI has made it clear that telcos need to come up with an integrated system of stopping fraud (calls and messages) and that more needs to be done to prevent UCC. In July 2018, TRAI issued the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018 ("TCCCPR, 2018") to put in place a framework for controlling UCC. The regulations came into force on February 28, 2019, in a co-regulatory manner with support from all Telecom Service Providers (TSPs), creating an ecosystem based on blockchain (Distributed Ledger Technology-DLT).


According to a previous report by Outlook, TRAI announced that from May 1, voice calls would use the blockchain-based DLT system currently used for unwanted messages. TRAI urged telcos to act quickly to stop annoying calls and messages, checking how well they followed its directions on cleaning up headers and content templates. During the implementation, the telecom companies will ask principal entities (PEs) such as banks, financial institutions (FIs), and others to remove unused headers and templates. TRAI also asked banks, FIs, and other PEs to send SMS to do this without delay and clean up headers and templates, and if they fail to follow, the regulator will have to block their messages in DLT for the sake of consumers.


To further combat the issue of fake calls and messages, TRAI has asked telecom companies to stop sending promotional calls on 10-digit mobile numbers, which are often used by spammers and fraudsters. The government has also asked telcos to implement a Call ID feature that will help customers identify the caller by showing their photo and name on the mobile phone screen.


However, telecom companies like Airtel and Jio are reluctant to use the technology for privacy reasons. Nonetheless, the implementation of AI technology to filter spam will begin on May 1.


Meanwhile, customers can activate DND (Do Not Disturb) on their mobile numbers to permanently block spam calls. TRAI has a special service that blocks spam calls permanently, the National Customer Preference Register (NCPR), previously known as the National Do Not Call Registry (NDNC). The NCPR helps people stop spam calls. Signing up for this DND service can avoid some or all telemarketing calls.


The National Consumer Preference Register ensures that DND activation only stops unwanted third-party commercial calls and not SMS alerts from banks, online portals and services, or personal calls from others.


How to activate DND on your mobile number

Step 1: Open your SMS app and type START.

Step 2: Send this message to 1909.

Step 3: You will receive a list of categories with their codes from your service provider. These categories include banking, hospitality, real estate, education, health, etc.

Step 4: Choose the code for the category that you want to block and reply to the message. For example, if you want to block real estate calls, reply with 7.

Step 5: You will get a confirmation message from your service provider that your request has been received.

Step 6: Wait for 24 hours for the DND service to start working.

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