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Understanding the FCC Reassigned Numbers Database

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In the video above, Tatango CEO Derek Johnson and TCPA attorney John Nelson break down what the proposed Reassigned Numbers Database means for brands and consumers. If you prefer to read, see the summary below.

 

The Challenge Brands Face With Reassigned Numbers

No one likes to feel pestered, and one surefire way to upset consumers is to send unsolicited text messages to their mobile phones. Sending unwanted text messages can damage a brand’s reputation and result in a loss of potential business. Unwanted text messages can also lead to Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) lawsuits and fines up to $1,500 per text message. Since phone numbers are often reassigned, companies can cross this line unintentionally. 

For example, suppose the person to whom your phone number was previously assigned opted in to receive coupons from Chipotle via text message. You may continue to receive those messages from Chipotle long after the number was reassigned to you. If these texts from Chipotle, which you didn’t opt in to receive, are frustrating, the experience may permanently damage your perception of the brand. There is no context regarding the number being reassigned. Therefore, there’s no way for you to understand why you’re receiving the texts or for the brand to realize the number now belongs to a different mobile phone user.

To avoid this type of situation, mobile marketing companies are seeking a solution. 

 

What Solutions Have Been Considered?

In 2015, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) established the One-Call Safe Harbor system, which gave companies an exemption for the first marketing text sent or call made to a reassigned number. This ruling provided little protection, especially for text messages. Consumers weren’t required to opt out, and the service providers had no reason to keep brands informed. Any messages beyond the first one could result in severe penalties. In early 2018, this system was ruled unreasonable by the DC Circuit Court.

 

What’s Happening Now?

In late 2018, the FCC voted to build a database of reassigned numbers, enabling brands to protect themselves and provide the best experience to consumers. As phone numbers change, this database would be continuously updated and available to mobile marketing companies. This database would help ensure brands only send messages to consenting customers. The industry has responded positively, but many details still need to be ironed out: 

  • Should there be more than one database?
  • Who should maintain and control the database? 
  • How can we incentivize cell service providers to keep the list updated? 
  • How do we best protect and ethically use the contact information in the database? 

A poorly implemented database could hurt the entire industry as well as consumers. A program of this scale will need to have a solid foundation and path forward. It could take years for this database to become fully functional, but this timeline also offers an opportunity.

 

What Can Text Message Marketers Do?

The FCC is asking for input as they move forward. As required by law, they will read and consider all feedback and narrow down different proposals and ideas until real change is made. There’s no specific time limit for this deliberation process, so brands should take full advantage and make their voices heard.

Reaching out to the FCC is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to have an impact on the future of mobile marketing. While specific ideas are welcome, feedback of any kind is still valuable. A reliable database of reassigned numbers can help everyone by providing the best experience to consumers and enabling brands to get their message out. 

 

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