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Written by: Mike Yang

As part of its strategy to stop unwanted and illegal robocalls, the FCC is opening an inquiry into the way that providers reassign phone numbers and how they can help prevent customers from receiving robocalls intended for other people.

The problem arises when one customer gives up a phone number, whether it’s a landline or mobile number, and then the provider reassigns the number to another customer. If the original owner of the number had consented to receive some robocalls, those calls may go to the new owner of the number, which could be illegal in some cases. Right now, there’s no central mechanism for providers to notify businesses or other organizations that a number has changed hands. The FCC is looking into whether it’s feasible to create repository of some kind to handle that task.
“Today there is no single comprehensive resource for an up-to-date list of numbers that have been reassigned. Thus, callers may unwittingly continue to place calls without realizing the number has switched hands. A business or other robocaller unknowingly calling a reassigned number can annoy the new consumer and deprive the previous consumer of an expected call,” the commission said in the notice.

“The Commission is asking for input on whether voice service providers should report when a number has been reassigned and how that data might be managed and utilized appropriately. This includes questions aimed at addressing privacy and security issues.”

In addition to being annoying, unwanted robocalls to the new owner of a number could be illegal. If the consumer hasn’t agreed to receive robocalls from a given company, the calls could violate the law, even if they’re intended for someone who had consented when he owned the number previously. On the other hand, consumers who change numbers can end up missing important robocalls from doctors or schools. The FCC is hoping to address the problem by developing a method for providers to notify robocallers when a number is reassigned.

“Today’s Second Notice of Inquiry tees up several approaches for carriers to report phone number reassignments and for businesses to be able to access that database. For example, the FCC could designate an administrator of a central reassigned numbers database. Or, providers could report the reassigned numbers directly to businesses or to an aggregator. Or, perhaps the providers could operate a database that could be queried as needed. We hope to get solid public input on the best way to structure a useful, cost-effective database,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

CC By license image from Saundra Castaneda