Bulk SMS ban: A knee-jerk reaction

By : |August 20, 2012 0

BANGALORE, INDIA: Traditional to Indian government’s approach to addressing crises of any scale and any kind, the recent ban on sending of bulk SMSes and MMSes appears to be a poorly thought-out and a knee-jerk reaction by the government.

[image_library_tag 683/18683, align=”left” width=”200″ height=”160″ title=”SMS” alt=”SMS” border=”1″ vspace=”10″ hspace=”10″ complete=”complete” ,default]Seen politically, the government never appears serious in addressing issues like infiltration and the resultant communal conflicts. The recent violence in Assam and the subsequent exodus by the northeast people across the country portrays poorly managed administration, both by state and central government.

Though the government has failed to stop the exodus as thousands of north-eastern people are boarding ‘special’ trains to reach their homes, the government on August 18 banned sending of bulk text messages in order to control the rumors being spread over telecom networks that north easterners would be attacked.

The exact wordings of the directive that Ministry of Communications & IT, Department of Telecom sent out to telecom operators are:

(a) Block bulk SMSes (more than 5) for the next 15 days in the entire country across all states/UTs.

(b) Block Bulk MMSes (more than 5) and all MMSes with attachments more than 25 KB for the next 15 day in the entire country across all states/UTs.

However, this restriction does not apply to SMSes/MMSes with respect to transactional messages related to institutions such as banking, financial and railways.

This created a lot of confusion not just not among consumers but also among operators. The initial directive asked the operators not to allow consumers to send more than five SMS/MMS at a go.

However, this failed in reaching the objective of checking ‘hate’ messages being spread and many operators complained of technical difficulties in doing so. The government again had to revise its directive and asked the operators to put a cap of five messages per day.

This whole episode of banning bulk SMSes seems to be a desperate measure by the government in curbing violence and the resultant exodus, and also a poorly thought out reaction. First, upon receiving the government order, most operators did not inform their customers that such a ban has been put.

Consumers only got to know this from various media reports and when they got a confirmation as they reached their daily limit of 5 SMSes. Interestingly, post paid users have been enjoying the freedom and sending more than the restricted number of SMSes per day. This, as if post paid users can not and do not send ‘hate’ messages!

Secondly, the ban is only on messages originating from telecom networks. What about various application generated messaging services, for example, Whatsapp? Most of the smartphone users use this application for messaging communications. There is no ban on this and the government’s objective of stopping the hate messages is certainly not going to be fulfilled.

Thirdly, there are many people falling in the deaf and dumb category solely using the text messages for communication. A blanket ban would get an undesired result for them.

With this blanket ban, the operators have started crying foul, saying it would impact at least 7-8 per cent of their revenue during this 15-day period. As per estimates, operators get around 15 per cent revenue from value added applications.

However, when a country is in crisis and people’s lives and national security is at stake, this claim by operators should not be taken seriously.

But the bigger questions is, is this blanket ban inevitable? Does the government not have any other alternative? Is this the only way the government could have stopped the exodus and the spread of false information that could endanger the lives of millions of people?

What the Govt could have done…

1.The government, instead of putting a complete ban, could have used various technologies available in the market that could ‘filter out’ the hate keywords from messages and stop these messages from being sent. You can not burn the entire house to kill one mischievous mouse.

2.The government could have used the same bulk messaging solutions to spread awareness that the government is doing everything to control the situation and people should not ‘panic’. The government machinery so far, it seems, has not understood the power of communication to spread ‘good messages’ when the same formula is being used to spread ‘bad messages.’

3.The government should not always resort to some corrective measures when a crisis occurs, rather it should start thinking about some preventive measures as situations like these keep recurring in the country.

What, in your opinion, could the government have done to ensure clarity about messaging?

What do you believe the telecom SPs could have done to reduce the confusion?

Do you know of similar cases in other geographies that have been handled in a better manner?

Do you know of technologies that would enable smart filtering?

Please write to us about this or if you have anything else to share at gyanas@cybermedia.co.in. We look forward to hearing from you and carrying relevant recommendations and comments.

(The story was originally published in Voice&Data)

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