The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has exceeded its jurisdiction by stipulating that telcos will have to shut down handsets that do not permit the regulator’s do-not-disturb (DND) app to be downloaded, said Apple officials, adding that the company is open to taking legal action on this issue.
Insiders at the US smartphone maker, which will be directly impacted by Trai latest rule unveiled Thursday, said the regulator cannot legally force telcos to “take any action which is not in their ambit like barring handsets from their network”.
“…the implementation of the regulation by operators is invalid from the outset, purely from practical enforceability itself,” a person familiar with Apple’s thinking said.
"The people said that Apple has already told the regulator about changes in its latest software upgrade iOS 12, to be launched in September, which has features that allow blocking of unwanted calls and messages on iPhones.
In iOS12, when a user receives an SMS or MMS message from an unknown sender, the Messages app will ask the user’s Message Filter app extension to determine whether the message is unsolicited or otherwise unwanted. A user’s app extension can make this determination by using its own built-in data and logic or by deferring to analysis done by the associated server. “These features will take care of what Trai wants – to check unwanted calls and messages. So, the new rule has come as a surprise,” ?a person said.
An Apple spokesperson did not reply to ET’s mail.
The industry bodies that represent telcos and handset makers have also criticised these rules and said mobile operators don’t have the legal authority to bar handsets from their networks.
Trai chairman RS Sharma had earlier said Apple was acting like a “data coloniser” and was being “anti-consumer”. He had asserted that a user’s data should be owned by the individual and the handset maker should have no right to prevent the user from disclosing it to anyone of his or her choice.
The latest Trai rules put its chairman’s views into practice. They make it compulsory for all handsets makers, including Apple, to allow the downloading of Trai’s DND app and similar ones certified by Trai on their devices. If the device makers don’t comply, they run the risk of being barred by telcos from their networks in six months
Trai has rejected the contention of manufacturers that this aspect was beyond its jurisdiction. “Such elements of the equipment that affect the performance of the network or the experience of some or all its users may be regulated as necessary in the discharge of Trai’s statutory obligations,” the regulator said while announcing these new regulations.
The DND app is available on the Google Playstore. But it has been downloaded by only 1 lakh users and has a rating of 2.6.
Industry bodies representing telcos and handset makers too have flagged concerns against Trai regulations.
They say the rule that puts the onus on telcos to review more than a billion phones at the app level, and deregister handsets, is not practical since choosing an app is up to the consumer and they don’t have the legal authority to bar handsets.
“We will have to review the licence conditions and ask the DoT if this is within the jurisdiction of the regulator,” said Rajan Mathews, DG of COAI, which represents all major telcos.
Indian Cellular Association, the body that represents handset makers, said Trai was attempting to do indirectly what it was prohibited from doing directly. “…it is clear from the Trai Act that the powers of the authority are limited to regulating telecom service providers,” the industry body added.