On December 12, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules that will establish a reassigned telephone number database that companies can use to check their call lists.  As an incentive to use the database, the FCC has provided a safe harbor:  companies will not face liability for calls to reassigned numbers caused by database error.  It appears that under the safe harbor, if a reassignment is not in the database, and the caller used the database and relied upon it, then the caller is not liable for calls placed to the reassigned number. 

According to the Commission, the database will permit callers to verify—before calling a number—whether that number has been permanently disconnected and is available for reassignment.  “Each month, voice providers and the Toll Free Numbering Administrator will report information to the database regarding permanently disconnected numbers,” explained FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his statement.   

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly stated his preference for using existing commercially-available databases, but applauded the inclusion of “a robust safe harbor” in the order.  “The costs of creating, maintaining, and using the database will be significant, and we simply cannot justify it without providing a corresponding benefit to callers who pay to use it,” O’Rielly stated.  “In all reality, this database will always be imperfect, meaning, despite our action effectively requiring callers to use it, users will still need to be shielded from pointless lawsuits.” 

While this is good news for many companies, the details on the database and safe harbor are still unclear as the FCC has not officially released the order yet.  There is no timetable for the database’s construction, and the Commission plans to select an independent third party to administer the database.   

While the FCC has yet to formally release a copy of the final order with the safe harbor language, a press release announcing adoption of the rule is available here