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Keeping ROBO Callers From Finding Your New Phone Number

July 14, 2017

Paige V. Schroeder

On July 13, 2017, the FCC adopted a Second Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) seeking comments as to different means of minimizing or eliminating robocalls to consumers with reassigned numbers.  This comes as a follow up to the NOI and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the FCC concerning robocalls earlier this summer.
The Second NOI intends to address the problem that occurs when a consumer who had previously consented to receive robocalls at a specific number terminates services to that number.  A robocaller who continues to make robocalls to that number after it is reassigned to another consumer who has not consented to the robocalls may be in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) while, at the same time, the consumer who previously used the number might miss calls he or she had requested.  Approximately 35 million telephone numbers are disconnected and aged each year.  The FCC seeks comments on the best ways for service providers to report information about reassigned numbers and how that information can be made available to robocallers in the most effective way.  
The FCC specifically seeks comments on: 1) how voice service providers could report information about the reassignment of numbers they have been allocated by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator; and 2) whether such reporting, when coupled with a reporting mechanism, would improve robocallers’ ability to identify reassigned numbers.  The FCC suggests different types of information that could be reported, questioning whether it would be more effective to inform robocallers when telephone numbers have been disconnected, when they become available, or when they change from available to assigned.  The FCC also seeks feedback as to whom any adopted reporting obligation should apply, including whether it should apply to all voice service providers or only to wireless providers, given the TCPA’s greater protections for wireless numbers.  
The FCC also proposes four different mechanisms by which reassigned number information could be reported and accessed.  The first option is a database established and overseen by the FCC.  The second option would require providers to report reassigned number information to outbound callers directly or to number data aggregators.  The third option would require voice service provider to offer robocallers and reassigned number data aggregators the ability to query the voice service provider’s own reassigned number information.  Lastly, the fourth option would require voice service providers to make reassigned data reports available to the public. 
In addition, the FCC seeks comments on a number of other issues such as incentives and disincentives for robocallers to utilize a comprehensive reassigned number resource and the adoption of a safe harbor provision from TCPA violations for robocallers who use such a resource.  The FCC also expresses concern over the burdens and costs of the proposed requirements and whether they could result in the disclosure of private, proprietary, or commercially sensitive information.   
As the initial comments on the NOI are due on August 28, 2017 and reply comments are not due on September 26, 2017, any rules that may be adopted by the FCC are months away.  Nonetheless, protecting consumers from illegal calls remains a priority for the FCC, and service providers, businesses, and consumers should continue to closely follow their efforts.      



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