In a new Notice of Inquiry (NOI) approved by the Federal Communications Commission at the July open meeting, the agency requested feedback on handling unwanted phone calls to reassigned phone numbers.
According to the FCC, approximately 35 million telephone numbers are disconnected and aged per year, with one source reporting that 100,000 numbers are reassigned by wireless carriers every day. Facing millions of complaints from consumers each year—and recognizing the potential liability for companies unaware that an individual’s number has changed—the agency initiated a proceeding to address the problem of reassigned numbers.
“To mitigate this problem, one approach is to develop a means for robocallers to verify whether a number has been reassigned prior to initiating the call,” according to the NOI. “This approach has broad support among both robocallers and consumers, all of whom may benefit if robocallers have better access to information about when numbers have been reassigned.”
The FCC first requested industry feedback on the ways in which the providers who have the information could report number reassignments in an accurate and timely way, what information should be reported, and when it should be reported—when a telephone number is disconnected, or when the number changes from available to assigned?
The agency also wondered about the scope of the reporting requirement: Should it be limited to wireless providers (excluding VoIP and wireline), or should it extend to all voice service providers? Additional information about the costs and benefits to voice service providers would be helpful, the FCC noted, querying the potential burden of reporting. “Should we consider a safe harbor from TCPA violations for robocallers who use the comprehensive reassigned number resource, or is an additional incentive not needed to increase its use?” the NOI queried.
Turning to the appropriate mechanism for reporting, the agency proffered four possibilities, requesting comment on each as well as the potential for other solutions. The first alternative: The FCC would establish and select an administrator of a central database of reassigned numbers, where voice service providers would report information to the database and robocallers would in turn ask the database for information about reassigned numbers.
“This approach, if adopted, would allow the Commission to oversee the quality of the data and of database operations, to restrict access to the data to appropriate entities under reasonable terms and conditions, and to ensure that the data continues to be available for as long as necessary, unlike commercial databases that might cease operations,” the FCC explained.
Other alternatives include reporting reassigned number information to robocallers directly or to reassigned number data aggregators, having each voice service provider offer robocallers the ability to query its own reassigned number information (with an application programming interface), or creating a public database of reassigned number information.
The FCC asked for feedback on additional issues such as the format of reassigned number information reporting, the frequency of updates, whether voice service providers should be compensated for reporting, eligibility to access reassigned number information and how the database would be funded.
Comments will be accepted until Aug. 28, with reply comments due by Sept. 26.
To read the NOI, click here.
Why it matters: Calling the NOI “an important first step,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said solving the problem of reassigned numbers “would save everyone a lot of trouble.” Businesses have already faced the threat of liability under the TCPA for reaching out to reassigned numbers, even with the agency’s “one free call” rule established in the 2015 Declaratory Ruling.