FCC Report on Status of Reassigned Numbers Database Hints at Mid-2021 Operational Date

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The FCC has taken two more steps to implement the "Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act" (TRACED Act), under which, as we've reported, it has implemented a number of actions toward stemming illegal "robocalls," including facilitating call blocking initiatives, implementation of STIR/SHAKEN call authentication, and a review of exceptions to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) autodialer and prerecorded-call restrictions. Now, the FCC has reported to Congress on the status of the agency's long-gestating "reassigned numbers database," and issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) toward establishment of a new online means for private parties to report alleged robocalling and caller ID spoofing regulations.

As we explained previously, the FCC adopted rules creating a reassigned numbers database in 2018 to address the twin issues of consumers receiving unwanted calls that were intended for other recipients who had consented to and expected them, and of liability in suits from private litigants under the TCPA for messages the caller believed it had consent to deliver, but in fact did not due to reassignment of the phone number called. The report to Congress on the status of the database lays out the steps the FCC has taken to develop the database, to find a contractor to operate it and to establish parameters of a safe harbor from liability for callers and/or texters who properly use the database once available.

The report recites that, having awarded SomosGov, Inc. a contract to develop it, the FCC expects the database "may" be operational as early as June of 2021. It also notes that the fee amount(s) to be paid by database users still remain to be set, under a tiered, subscription-based structure as directed by the FCC. Additionally, the report confirms that compliance dates for service providers to begin reporting to the database the most recent date of permanent disconnection for phone numbers also remains to be established.

Separately, but also with the goal of combatting unlawful robocalls, the FCC's concurrently issued NPRM proposes rules to satisfy the TRACED Act's command that the FCC find streamlined ways for private entities to voluntarily share with the agency information relating to calls or texts that are believed to violate robocall and/or caller ID spoofing laws/rules. To that end the NPRM seeks comment on potential establishment of an online FCC web portal, to be monitored by its Enforcement Bureau, where private entities may report alleged violations. The portal would be in addition to and distinct from the FCC informal complaint process managed by its Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.

The NPRM proposes that "private entities" who may report to the portal will be any person or entity other than government bodies/personnel. The FCC says that it expects the portal will be "particularly valuable" not just to call recipients who experience (perceived) unlawful activity, but also "employees who suspect their company is violating the law."

The NPRM proposes to have the portal's online form require the name of the entity making the report, a point of contact for same, the caller ID for the alleged offending call(s) or text(s), the phone numbers to which they were directed, the date(s) and time(s) of the calls or texts, the name of the reporting entity's service provider, and a description of the calls/texts. The FCC also asks if any other "incentives" are needed to encourage reports (such as some kind of "safe harbor" for reporting entities), and if there are any statutory/regulatory impediments to making reports that the FCC should address.

Comment on the NPRM will be due 30 days after it appears in the Federal Register, with replies due 15 days after that.

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