Reassigned number database includes safe harbor for callers


Ever switch phone numbers? It’s a hassle, right? Not only do you have to tell everyone and their assistant what your new number is, but the calls keep rolling in for your new number’s previous owner.

And these personal travails pale in comparison to what companies that rely on phone number databases must endure. A misplaced phone call, or series of phone calls, to a consumer who never consented to hear from you can land you in dicey legal territory, even if the calls you made were placed without knowledge of a number reassignment.

Well, we’re here to announce to consumers and businesses alike something they don’t hear every day: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) feels your pain.

Tale of Woe

In a recent statement on the issue, Commissioner Brendan Carr related that the agita created by reassigned phone numbers reaches into the hallowed halls of the FCC. In his own words:

When I started at the FCC a few years back ... the mobile phone our IT team gave me had recently been turned in by another employee. So I got a lot of calls meant for her. I don’t want to call that person out, but I will say, Jennifer Manner, if you’re still missing phone calls, I am happy to give you an update next time you stop by the Commission.

Carr’s statement addressed a recent FCC announcement that much-needed rationality was coming to the reassigned-number problem, including its impact on actions under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

On Dec. 12, the Commission announced the creation of a single, comprehensive database that will log reassigned numbers. Callers can avail themselves of the database, using it to winnow out now-incorrect phone numbers in their own systems. The Commission also introduced a new 45-day “aging period” to hold back disconnected numbers from being reassigned. The new database will be managed by an independent administrator.

The Takeaway

According to the Commission, “the rules respond to consumer groups, trade associations, and state and federal authorities that asked the Commission to establish a single, comprehensive database as the best solution to reducing calls to reassigned numbers while minimizing burdens on both callers and providers.”

These concerned groups will also likely be happy with the Commission’s plans to institute a “safe harbor from liability for any calls to reassigned numbers caused by database error.” According to Commissioner Michael O’Reilly’s statement on the same issue, “In all reality, this database will always be imperfect, meaning, despite our action effectively requiring callers to use it, users will still need to be shielded from pointless lawsuits.”

O’Reilly also mentioned that he thought the new database was an incomplete solution to problems caused by poor definitions within the existing TCPA statute and its interpretations. “To the extent that the purpose of creating the database is to insulate users from liability, it would have been more fitting, in my opinion, to first address the definition of “called party” in the context of the TCPA,” O’Reilly wrote. “After all, should the Commission decide to rightfully redefine ‘called party’ as the intended recipient of the call — rather than the subscriber of the number — the legal liability basis for establishing the database would significantly dissipate.”

Nonetheless, O’Reilly expressed support for the database approach as a stop-gap measure. “[I] have been promised that a comprehensive redo of our TCPA rules will be considered promptly,” he concludes.

Keep your ears to the rail, folks. Bigger changes to the TCPA may be barreling down the tracks.