No respite from unwanted texts
Mobile phone subscribers are still being flooded with promotional and commercial messages even a month after they opted to block them, which highlighted that the regulator's directive to the carriers to stop the nuisance is not working.
On April 24, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said subscribers could activate the "Do Not Disturb (DND)" service option by dialling shortcodes or sending messages if they want to keep promotional texts at bay.
But a number of users expressed annoyance, saying they still receive the unwanted messages. Hundreds of Facebook users vented their anger on the official Facebook page of the commission.
Sherajul Islam Shiraj, a user of Grameenphone, sent an SMS to activate the DND service when he saw the notification of the BTRC. He received a message that informed him that the service would be activated very soon.
"Unfortunately, the service has not been activated yet, although one month has passed. I still receive various promotional messages like in the past. This is very annoying," he said.
Nasif Abdullah Al Saleq, a subscriber of Robi, said he sent a request via USSD code to unsubscribe promotional messages, but the service had not been activated yet.
"I feel disturbed because of the increasing number of promotional messages."
Like Saleq and Shiraj, there are many subscribers across the country that have made similar complaints about the issue.
Operators introduced the option of blocking unwanted SMS for the customers several years ago, following instructions from the BTRC.
But customers were not adequately informed about the facility.
In September 2018, the telecom regulator had ordered them to stop sending commercial and promotional messages to subscribers if they choose not to receive those.
When contacted, BTRC Chairman Shyam Sunder Sikder said the commission was working on the issue in the interest of the customers.
"We are trying to solve the problem as soon as possible if it is a technical issue," he said.
Industry people say both technical and commercial aspects are involved with the issue.
The telecom regulator would be able to resolve the technical problems, but it would be difficult for the commission to sort out the challenges related to the commercial aspect, they say.
The implementation of the BTRC order is being delayed because of the commercial contracts between mobile operators, clients of the operators who use the service to reach out to subscribers, and SMS aggregators, which sell SMS comparatively at lesser rates among corporates and individuals after buying them at bulk volumes from mobile operators.
Operators are unwilling to put an end to the service as the segment generates huge revenues for them, said an insider.
Grameenphone, Robi, Banglalink, and Teletalk have 17.5 crore subscribers combined.
According to the commission's annual report, 443 crore SMSs were sent on an individual level (person to person) in June 2020.
There is no official data on the promotional and marketing messages subscribers receive from mobile phone operators, third parties, and SMS aggregators.
Seeking anonymity, an official of the BTRC said the regulator planned to formulate a new mechanism to expand the purview of the DND service so that all types of promotional messages from mobile operators, third parties, and SMS aggregators come under its scanner.
The BTRC chairman said the commission was planning to restore order in the segment through a proper guideline.
Robi Axiata Chief Corporate and Regulatory Officer Shahed Alam said it had implemented the DND service as per instruction of the commission.
"We are happy to collaborate with the BTRC to address the challenges and to ensure customers' satisfaction because customers' safety and comfort comes first and should be prioritised."
He did not comment when asked why Robi's subscribers were still receiving promotional messages despite activating the service.
Ankit Sureka, head of corporate communications and sustainability of Banglalink, said subscribers could block promotional messages that came from the operator by activating the DND service.
Banglalink user Rasha Aziz, who is annoyed for receiving unwanted messages, said, "I'm very upset about the matter. I am still getting the texts even after activating the DND service."
A spokesperson of Grameenphone declined to comment.
In Bangladesh, authorities start implementing initiatives without carrying out any proper study. But when the public faces disturbances and raises voice, authorities only move to address the grievances, said Md Rokunuzzaman, a telecommunication expert.
"Authorities should conduct the study first," he said.
He said customers should have a choice whether they wanted to receive any promotional messages. "But they are getting a lot of messages without giving any permission."
Rokunuzzaman said promotional SMS and texts had become a nuisance for subscribers.
"Because of the barrage of unwanted SMS, important messages sometimes get ignored," he said, urging the commission to draw up a guideline to establish discipline in the whole process.