Editor's Note: This article previously appeared on the Ontario Systems Blog and is republished here with permission.
If you are like me, you cheered when you read the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is coming out with a reassigned mobile phone number database. Visions of daily scrubs against a free public database of mobile phone numbers supported by carriers across the land danced in my head. But alas, such is not the case. Although the new database will have tremendous value, it is value that will come with a price.
Why We Should Care
If there is one thing we know for sure about the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), particularly in the wake of ACA vs. FCC, it is the sad truth that the “one free call” rule no longer exists. This means without exception, and until further clarification is provided, in order to comply with the consent requirements of the TCPA when autodialing, text messaging, leaving a prerecorded message or using an artificial voice to contact a consumer via their mobile phone, callers using mobile numbers must in fact contact only those consumers from whom they have express consent. There is no room for error.
The FCC’s Solution
According to the FCC, each year, over 35 million numbers in the United States are disconnected and become available for reassignment to new subscribers. Few disagree that the failure to promptly identify these reassignments poses significant issues for the calling parties who will inevitably call a person to whom the number has been reassigned, but who did not grant consent. Recognizing callers must have confidence that the number they are using is associated with the consumer who actually granted the consent, the FCC embarked on a two-year study of the reassigned number dilemma.
In December of 2018, the FCC approved the roll out of a mobile phone database of deactivated phone numbers. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “deactivated;” the term means turned off or disabled. In this context, a carrier turns off or deactivates a mobile phone number when, for example, a person relinquishes their phone number to their carrier to take advantage of a discount. When this happens, the carrier will categorize your old number as deactivated and reassign the number to a new consumer.
Mandatory Participation by Voice Service Providers
While several private companies in the marketplace can confirm numbers as being currently assigned to a particular person, the FCC observed these commercial databases do not contain information on every mobile phone number. This is because currently voice service providers who assign numbers to their subscribers are not required to report this information to a centralized database. In contrast, the FCC’s new, mandatory data reporting obligation will be imposed on all carriers and voice providers, including wireless, wireline, and interconnected VoIP providers who obtain numbering resources from the North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA).
How it Works
Voice service providers will need to report deactivated mobile phone numbers to the database administrator each month. They will also have to establish a minimum “aging” period of 45 days after permanent disconnection. After waiting 45 days, the number is eligible for reassignment. The FCC stated that a minimum aging period longer than a month would permit permanent disconnections to be reflected in the new database as providers report this information to the database administrator monthly.
Access to the database will be available to callers large and small. Low-volume access will be available through a website interface. High-volume access will be made available for batch processing through standardized interfaces. The Order also recognized that callers may want to use third-party contractors as their agents, and the FCC will allow third-party contractors access to the database on request.
Not a Panacea
Callers will pay a fee for access to the database. Yet it is too soon to predict the cost of access via the web interface or batch processing. Issues regarding the security of the database and the management of the high volume of transactions could cripple the database even before it even launches. While the FCC estimates the build out of the database will take a year, many expect it could take as long as two. In the meantime, callers are well advised to use commercial scrub services to increase their likelihood of contacting consumers for which they have obtained consent using their mobile phone numbers.