Responding to what Federal Communication Commission (“Commission”) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel described as a “rise in scammers trying to take advantage of our trust in text messages,” on October 18, she circulated a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to her fellow commissioners that would “require mobile wireless providers to block illegal text messages.” The News Release announcing the draft NPRM noted that in 2020 the agency received nearly “14,000 consumer complaints about unwanted text messages,” which represented a nearly 150% increase from 2019. Chairwoman Rosenworcel, commenting on the draft NPRM, explained that “[i]t’s time we take steps to confront this latest wave of fraud and identify how mobile carriers can block these automated messages before they have the opportunity to cause any harm.” The Commission chair circulates items giving the other commissioners time to review and request any changes before deciding whether to adopt or reject the proposal. If adopted, the NPRM will be released to the public so that interested parties can submit comments on the proposals in the NPRM.
Beginning at 8:00 a.m. on November 1, the Commission’s Reassigned Numbers Database (“RND”) went live. The RND is a database of telephone numbers to which callers may subscribe in order to protect themselves from Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) liability by minimizing the risk of inadvertently dialing the number of a consumer that has consented to be called but that has been reassigned. In instances where the RND incorrectly indicates that a number has not been reassigned even though it was, that caller may be protected against TCPA liability for placing that call. At the time of launch, the RND contained over 150 million geographic and toll-free numbers.
The Commission requires carriers to provide updated information regarding cell phone numbers and their owners to the RND. To use the data, an RND subscriber submits two pieces of information: a cellphone number and “last good” date – the last date the caller believes the phone number belonged to the called party. After receiving that information, the RND Administrator responds with a “yes” or “no.” A “yes” means the number has been reassigned since the “last good” date and cannot be called. A “no” means the number has not been reassigned and presumably may be called.
Because callers are protected from TCPA liability only if they use the RND and only for errors in the RND itself, it is important for all callers to set up protocols for checking their information against the database before placing a call. The RND has its own website that can be found here: Reassigned Numbers Database.
As we reported earlier this year, the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau, as part of the agency’s effort to stop illegal and unwanted robocalls, sent cease-and-desist letters to a number of voice providers that the Enforcement Bureau alleged were transmitting unlawful robocall traffic. On October 21, the Enforcement Bureau issued cease-and-desist letters to an additional three network providers demanding that they “immediately cease originating illegal robocall campaigns on their networks.”
These additional letters are more evidence that this Commission intends to continue to aggressively pursue illegal robocalling. In announcing the issuance of the letters, Chairwoman Rosenworcel warned bad actors and those who think the Commission had let up its enforcement efforts, stating, “These cease-and-desist letters should serve as a warning sign to other entities that believe the Commission has turned a blind eye to this issue. We haven’t. Our latest action makes it clear to companies like these that we will intervene when necessary to protect American consumers. The Commission is putting its full force behind stopping these junk calls.”
The Companies that received the letters were ordered to take steps to “effectively mitigate illegal traffic within 48 hours” and were required to inform the Commission and USTelecom Industry Traceback Consortium of the steps taken within 14 days. According to the Commission, the letters issued earlier this year appear to have been effective at stopping illegal robocalling campaigns on those networks. The Commission noted that it will continue to monitor all of the activities of companies who have received cease-and-desist letters from the Enforcement Bureau.