The FCC has voted to create a single, comprehensive database of reassigned phone numbers, and has provided a safe harbor from "do not call" liability for database errors that lead to calls (or robocalls) to those reassigned numbers.
The FCC is trying to insulate calls in error from liability and potential lawsuits under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
The issue is when a consumer gives a business permission to call them, but then the number is reassigned to someone else who did not give permission.
The FCC is giving businesses a one-stop shop for determining if their calls are going to the right party by checking to see if a number has been disconnected. It is also establishing a 45-day waiting period before a number can be reassigned.
FCC chair Ajit Pai said avoiding confusion benefits everyone, those changing numbers, and businesses trying to contact them. The database will be administered by an outside party.
Pai said the safe harbor will make sure a responsible caller will not be liable for database error.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she detests robocalls and thus backed the decision, but also said the FCC needs to do more. She also pointed out that there is no deadline for implementation of the database while she said there is a robocall crisis now.
She said she thought every consumer should get free access to robocall blocking tools, and said she had written to the major carriers Wednesday asking them to make such tools available for free and invited her colleagues to support that effort.
Pai said the FCC was pursuing a comprehensive approach to robocalls and that there was no one solution. He did not volunteer his support.
“The Commission’s decision to establish a reassigned numbers database should help consumers in addressing the problem of unwanted calls," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. "NCTA particularly appreciates the Commission’s decision to include a safe harbor from TCPA liability for callers that consult the database, which will encourage greater use of the database and reduce the number of unwanted calls received by consumers.” NCTA had pushed for that harbor.
The bipartisan duo of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) one of the most experienced legislators in terms of communications issues, praised the FCC decision. “We applaud the Commission for their continued efforts to protect the American public and promote public interest with a reassigned numbers database,” said Thune and Markey in an unusual joint statement. "Once implemented, this database will help legitimate callers avoid making unwanted calls and texts to Americans who have acquired the phone number of a previous user who had signed up for messages.”
"ACA congratulates the FCC for taking the next step in its efforts to reduce the number of unwanted calls to consumers," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka. "We appreciate that the item was mindful of the burdens that this new monthly reporting requirement would impose on providers and that the FCC has directed the North American Numbering Council (NANC) to make every effort to reduce those burdens. We look forward to working with the NANC to ensure that its technical and operational recommendations meet this goal."
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, has tried to legislate such a database as well as a the free robocall protection Rosenworcel has called for. “As a part of my comprehensive bill, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, the FCC would be required to establish a reassigned number database," he said Wednesday. "I was pleased with the draft order Chairman Pai previously circulated and will review the adopted order once it is available. If done correctly, the database will help protect consumers with reassigned numbers from receiving unwanted robocalls. My bill also includes provisions that would codify Commissioner Rosenworcel’s demand for carriers to make robocall blocking tools available to their customers for free. Robocalls are a major nuisance for consumers and I will push for comprehensive legislation to protect consumers in the coming Congress.”