On December 12, 2018, the FCC approved its recently released Draft Ruling and Order addressing the issue of reassigned telephone numbers. Reassigned telephone numbers present a difficulty for companies that contact customers because companies often have no way of knowing whether the customer currently has that number, or if the number was reassigned to someone else. If a company calls a telephone number it believes belongs to a customer but that number was reassigned to another person, the company can be exposed to liability under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
To address the problem, the FCC will create a single, comprehensive database of reassigned numbers that callers can use to verify whether a telephone number has been disconnected and is eligible for reassignment. Currently, telecom companies can reassign telephone numbers in a matter of days, but the new rule will require a minimum aging period of forty-five days before the telephone numbers can be reassigned. This will give telecom companies an opportunity to upload the numbers and the disconnection date so callers will have an opportunity to learn of the disconnection before calling a reassigned number. Additionally, while the Draft Ruling and Order did not mention a safe harbor provision, the FCC’s press release states that “the Commission is providing callers a safe harbor from liability for any calls to reassigned numbers caused by database error.”
The Ruling and Order is a positive step for any company that contacts consumers because it will allow companies to actively reduce their liability under the TCPA by allowing them to search the database and remove any disconnected numbers before starting a calling campaign. This move may also counter the rise of TCPA class actions based on calls to the wrong party (often due to reassigned telephone numbers).