Before the federal government shutdown took hold, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules that can impact phone numbers auto finance company collection departments might be trying to regain contact with delinquent contract holders.
The new FCC rules are designed to establish a reassigned numbers database that the regulator said will reduce the number of unwanted phone calls Americans receive.
The new rules establish a single, comprehensive database with information provided by phone companies that callers will be able to use to avoid calling reassigned numbers. Callers using the database will be able to find out if telephone numbers assigned to consumers who want their calls have been disconnected and made eligible for reassignment. Any such numbers can then be purged from their call lists, thereby decreasing the number of unwanted calls to consumers.
To further encourage callers to use the database, the FCC is providing callers a safe harbor from liability for any calls to reassigned numbers caused by database error.
“The problem is a simple one,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said. “A doctor’s office is trying to reach a patient and calls what it thinks is the patient’s phone number. But the patient has changed numbers, and her old number has been reassigned to someone else. So someone with no relationship to the doctor’s office or the patient receives the call.
“This isn’t good for anyone,” Pai continued. “The new holder of the number is annoyed by a call meant for someone else. The patient misses out on what could be an important call from her doctor’s office. And the doctor’s office is unable to reach the patient and could face a lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) for unknowingly placing the call in question.
Of course, this scenario applies to a wide range of businesses and customers beyond doctors’ offices and patients. And avoiding it benefits everybody. It’s good for individuals who receive a new phone number. It’s good for individuals changing phone numbers. And it’s good for businesses,” Pai went on to say.
The FCC insisted 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.
“This database will be managed by an independent third-party administrator selected through a competitive bidding process, and that administrator will receive information about permanently disconnected numbers from reporting providers,” Pai said.
“To ease the burden on small providers, we allow them an additional six months to begin reporting to the database administrator,” he continued. “Finally, we adopt a safe harbor from TCPA liability for those callers that rely on the database to learn if a number has been reassigned. This will ensure that a responsible caller who uses this database will not be held liable for accidentally making a call to a reassigned number because of a database error.”
FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly expressed concerns about what the FCC’s moves still lack. O’Rielly framed his assessment in light of decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit aimed at offering clarity about the TCPA.
“While our action helps in addressing abusive and predatory TCPA litigation, I do remain concerned about the costs of the database for service providers and users,” O’Rielly said. “Lessons from the private sector have taught us that requisite database dips to verify reassignment can become cost-prohibitive for businesses.
“Moreover, as structured in the order, data dips are likely to surge at certain times and will require additional investments by the administrator in server capacity to handle peak traffic days — the costs of which will ultimately be borne by users,” he continued.
“I urge the North American Numbering Council (NANC) — to whom we have delegated substantial discretion to develop a database administration plan — to focus on minimizing costs and burdens for users and service providers and ensuring that it is reasonably affordable for all to use.
“Today’s action is a positive development in reversing the previous FCC’s deeply-flawed 2015 TCPA Order,” O’Rielly went on to say. “However, much more work remains, particularly on narrowing the prior commission’s ludicrous definition of ‘autodialer,’ and eliminating the lawless revocation of consent rule. I am optimistic that our next steps will go a long way in reading the TCPA in a logical way and limiting wasteful and frivolous TCPA litigation that does nothing to protect consumers or stop illegal robocalls.”