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TRAI fines Airtel, BSNL, Jio for inadequate response to phishing notices

The telecom regulator has imposed a penalty on Bharti Airtel Ltd, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, among others, as they did not respond appropriately to a show-cause notice issued due to failure in block phishing activities on their networks.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has also fined Vodafone Idea Ltd, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Tata Teleservices in a case pertaining to One97 Communications Ltd, the parent of fintech company Paytm. In June, One97 had moved the Delhi High Court against telcos, TRAI and the Centre for not blocking those who were defrauding its customers by phishing activities over mobile networks.

BSNL has been slapped with the highest fine of ₹30 crore, according to an affidavit filed by the TRAI at the Delhi High Court. Mint has reviewed a copy of the affidavit. Almost 60-70% of the fraudulent messages and phishing attempts to customers have been on the BSNL network, according to industry officials.

“As per regulation 27 of Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations (TCCCPR), 2018, the Authority (TRAI) may impose financial disincentives on any access provider if it fails to curb Unsolicited Commercial Communication (UCC) through its network,” TRAI said in the affidavit filed on Monday.

However, TRAI cannot impose penalty on telecom operators without giving them sufficient time to block phishing activities on their networks. While BSNL was issued a show-cause notice twice to comply with the UCC guidelines, other telcos were asked on 1 October. Failure to curb UCC by both BSNL and other telcos attracted the penalty.

The Delhi High Court will hear the case on Wednesday.

In September, technology industry body, Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) along with other digital fintechs including PhonePe and MobiKwik filed a writ intervention appeal at the Delhi High Court to become a party in the One97 versus telcos case.

The intervention appeal, which was placed before the Delhi High Court in the last hearing on 23 September, said fintechs such as PhonePe and MobiKwik were also hurt by phishing activities taking place over various mobile networks.

“TRAI is finally implementing the regulation on TCCCPR for violations which have continued in months of April to June. If this was implemented in the first case, the penalties wouldn’t have to be imposed. In the long term, this is good for Indian customers who are annoyed by unsolicited communication from telemarketers,” said a senior lawyer, who spoke to Mint on condition of anonymity.

Through these penalties, TRAI is giving “a big message” to telcos, the lawyer said.

One97 Communications did not answer to Mint’s queries until press time.

In its first petition in June, Paytm filed a defamation suit of ₹100 crore on telecom operators–Airtel, Reliance Jio, BSNL, MTNL, and Vodafone Idea–for not blocking phishing activities over their networks, leading to financial loss for the fintech company. Livemint

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