The Wireless Access Service Providers Association of Ghana (WASPAG) is calling on the National Communications Authority (NCA) to sanction a universal short code for blocking all unsolicited text or voice messages.
Head of Regulation and Corporate Affairs at WASPAG, Conrad Nyuur told Techgh24 in an exclusive interview that in the same way the NCA has sanctioned universal short codes for calling telco customer service (100), and for checking airtime/data balance (124) among others, they must approve one short code for blocking unsolicited communication.
Chief Executive of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications (GCT), Dr. Ing. Ken Ashigbey also told Techgh24 that he fully supports the idea of a unified short code for reporting and blocking unsolicited electronic communication.
Unsolicited electronic communication comprises of SMS and or voice notes organizations and individuals send in bulk to contacts they may have collected via several means, even though the people they send the messages to have not asked for such messages.
Such messages could be coming from event organizers, product and service marketers, corporate organizations, and in recent times from political parties, usually with a request for the receiver to subscribe to a certain service, buy a certain product or endorse and certain course.
The people who stand to benefit from the broadcast of such messages often use third party wireless access service providers (WASPs) to send the messages on their behalf.
Such communications are often as no cost to the recipient, but some also cost the recipient unless he or she send a STOP message.
Code of Conduct
The NCA, in 2014, issued the Unsolicited Electronic Communication Code of Conduct to govern that enterprise. The Code frowns on sending unsolicited messages to people, and spells out sanctions for defaulters, but that has not deterred the perpetrators of the practice.
Receivers of such unsolicited messages often accuse their network service provider for giving their contacts to people and organizations to send unsolicited messages to them.
The telcos have therefore provided separate ways by which customers can either report or block messages from people and organizations that send unsolicited messages.
But Conrad Nyuur, who is also CEO for Sumus Digital, thinks the separate arrangements by the respective telcos is largely ineffective because it still leaves the customer at the mercy of the sender, who can always change their sender ID and still send messages to the same customers.
“We think the most effective way to protect phone users from receiving unsolicited messages is for the NCA to approve one short code for all networks so the customers can send their request to the short code and the operators of the short code will block that sender and the number they use for good, even if they change the sender ID,” he said.
He said NCA can either assign that universal short code to one content provider (CP) or to WASPAG as an association to perform that function on behalf of the NCA and in the interest of the consumer.
According to him, the recalcitrant people behind the bulk messages can sometimes change their SMS ID and keep sending messages to people who are not interested, but with the central blocking platform, the number sending the messages can be denied access to the customer’s number even if the SMS ID is changed.
He noted that out of the channels given by MTN, Vodafone and AirtelTigo for blocking unsolicited communication, only MTN’s solution is effective, explaining that Vodafone’s will lead to blocking all short code messages to the complainant’s phone, including even solicited ones, while AirtelTigo’s solution is likely never to yield any result because the STOP messages goes to the same sender.
“There are some bulk message short codes, which are configured not to receive replies, so if you send STOP to it, they will not even see it so they will keep sending you messages,” he explained further.
Conrad Nyuur said WASPAG has, many years ago, proposed the universal short code for blocking unwanted messages and they believe it is time for the NCA to pay attention to it and make it happen, particularly in this election season, when political parties have started abusing the code.
Meanwhile, lots of consumers keep erroneously pointing accusing fingers at telcos for “giving out their contact numbers to people and organizations to send them unsolicited messages”.
A case in point is the Saturday’s bulk message from NPP to almost every phone user in Ghana asking them to vote for Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. Many took to social media accusing the telcos of giving customers’ phone numbers to the NPP to send them messages.
But the truth is that telcos do not give out anyone’s contact to any person or organization to blast bulk messages to them.
These recalcitrant organizations and persons often acquire those contacts from several other channels, other than telcos. Some of the channel include event organizers, utility service providers, other corporate bodies like banks, insurance companies and any other place people go and fill forms, giving out their contact details.
Even when people download Apps and key in their contact details, all those are stored by the respective App owners, which include banks, FinTechs, government and many more.
Indeed, the government’s Common Monitoring Platform, run by Kelni GVG, as well as the interconnect clearinghouse run by Afriwave, do have contact numbers of millions of Ghanaians.
All of those are channels by which NPP and any other political party could have easily gotten millions of phone numbers at a fee to blast their messages.
Another accusation is that even if the NPP got phone numbers from elsewhere, it was the telcos who sent the messages on behalf of the NPP. This is also not true.
The telcos only go as far as checking the content of the message to ensure it does not flout any regulations. The sending is done by either the NPP itself or by a CP hired by them to blast the message to the numbers they provide.
WASPAG believes all these would be addressed to a large extent if the NCA sanctions a universal short code for blocking unsolicited electronic communication, something that the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications support.