How NextDrop Beat the Indian Bureaucracy to Get Back on Track

    by Anu Sridharan
    October 24, 2011

    I knew something was wrong when I got 28 text messages from the NextDrop system at 9:02 a.m. on Sept. 28. All 28 messages were supposed to go out between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. to our residents (giving the different areas advance notice of water arrival as well as real-time water delivery information) but for some reason, they only got delivered to everyone at 9:02 a.m. — which basically defeats the purpose of our entire business.

    NextDrop, winner of the 2011 Knight News Challenge, informs residents in India about the availability of piped water in order to help them lead more productive, less stressful lives.



    After calling our technical lead, Swaroop C.H., we realized that we had been hit by the new regulations that India’s government had passed that went into effect Sept. 27. Essentially, it said no bulk messages (i.e., NextDrop messages) could be sent between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. — definitely a game-changing regulation.

    After making calls to our messaging provider, we were told we had two options: Either a) stop sending messages between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., or b) get an exemption from the government saying our messages are considered “transactional” and NOT “commercial” (in other words, useful and not spam). Neither option seemed appealing because the first would greatly decrease our potential market (i.e., only to people who get water between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.) and the second would take an unknown quantity of time. (But from my experience, it would probably be closer to the many months side.)

    A little help from friends

    However, after explaining that our pilot was underway and we didn’t want to disrupt service for extended periods of time, our friends at Netcore came through. Thejo Kote, who’s part of our NextDrop team, tapped his friend, Netcore’s Mani, who spent hours pouring over the regulations to see if we could somehow prove that our messages should be considered “transactional.” Finally, he found it: One exception was that messages that came from “constitutional bodies” would count as “transactional.” Further, the Central Water Commission (CWC) was technically a “constitutional body.”


    After Mani’s brilliant find, we basically had to prove that we were actually working with the Hubli Dharwad water utility. Luckily for us, the commissioner of Hubli Dharwad was holding his board meeting on Sept. 30 — during which time NextDrop was scheduled to receive official approval from the commission to explicitly allow its residents to use our service. The measure eventually received unanimous approval (although there was some dissent/concern over the price initially) and Madhusudhan B., our program officer, managed to obtain a copy of that statement on Monday.

    Now I really want to do Madhu justice here, because it was actually incredibly hard to get the letter that soon. (It was literally the next working day after we had received approval, and these things usually take three to five days at the earliest to process.) But Madhu came through for us. I immediately sent the letter to Mani, and he became our advocate at Netcore, making sure that the right people saw the letter as soon as possible and following up on a daily basis.

    Two days later, (Oct. 5), we got approval from Netcore to be considered a “transactional” messaging service. Now this is different from receiving official TRAI approval (which we are in the process of applying for). But this meant that Netcore felt they had enough documentation to show that they are within the law to send our messages in a timely manner.

    Back in business

    After the Dussehra holidays (Oct. 5-6), Swaroop coordinated with Mani to make sure we had everything in order to proceed, and NextDrop service officially started again on Oct. 10.

    Overall, we were down for 12 days. However, Avinash Anigol, our business development officer, did a great job of communicating with our customers (informing them of the new TRAI regulations we were trying to comply with); Madhu did a great job of getting the documentation we needed to get things done; and Swaroop took the lead over the weekend to make sure the system was tested and ready to go on Monday.

    We also couldn’t have done it without our advocates — Mani in Netcore, the commissioner in the Water Utility, and others. They fought for us in their respective organizations, and because of them, we are now able to continue our service. We are so thankful that we have friends who believe in what we are doing, but more importantly, are willing to do everything in their power to make sure we provide the best service we can.

    A version of this post first appeared on the NextDrop blog.

    Tagged: bureaucracy central water commission india netcore nextdrop regulations SMS text messages water

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