The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has “set aside” (translation: reversed) the most frustrating and unfair aspect of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The so-called “safe harbor” rule allowing only a single call or text to a reassigned number before being considered a violation of the Act is gone. This action has particular relevance for utilities who need the ability to communicate with their members using the speed, accuracy and low cost of text messaging.
Why Is This Important to Utilities?
Some utilities were reluctant to send texts to their members until this decision was published. Even though the FCC had made it very clear that utilities could send “informational or emergency” messages without getting permission first (“opting in”). As long as the mobile phone number was provided in the “normal course of doing business” utilities received a special “carve out” allowing them to send messages to them. What’s the normal course of doing business? If a mobile number was entered on a service application or given to a customer service rep, that’s normal.
Before this updated decision, made on March 16, 2018, any phone number that was “reassigned” after being disconnected by its prior user could only be called once or sent a single text before the sender might be declared in violation of TCPA. This was clearly a monumental responsibility and an onerous restriction.
What Did TextPower Do To Help Utilities Until This Decision?
This so-called “safe harbor” clause put the burden of knowing which numbers were reassigned on the backs of the utilities or their service providers (like TextPower) without any centralized source of information about whether a number was disconnected. Determining which numbers were disconnected and then reassigned is difficult, costly and resource-intensive.
“We took it upon ourselves to examine more than 30 million numbers sent to us by the carriers every month to find which of those that were disconnected and reassigned,” said Scott Goldman, Co-Founder and CEO of TextPower, Inc. “It was difficult and costly, but important to our many utility cooperatives all over the country. They needed confidence that reassigned numbers would be removed from our database to prevent inadvertently sending texts to them. This was an enormous project, taking hundreds of development hours, but we are committed to providing the best and safest service for our utilities.”
So What Happens Now?
Now utilities can relax. As long as they follow the reasonable rules of TCPA – which TextPower has baked into its system – they are safe. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has made it very clear that it is unreasonable to expect the sender/provider to know which numbers have been disconnected without some feedback from the new assignee. As long as the send/provider follows the rules and gives the recipient a clear and simple way of stopping the calls or texts – as TextPower does by allowing anyone to send STOP, QUIT or CANCEL at any time – there is no danger of a TCPA violation.
“TextPower takes great pride in the efforts put into keeping our cooperative utility customers compliant with all appropriate laws and regulations. We will continue to stay at the forefront of this important matter while we create great software and high-speed integrations with our partners,” said Mark Nielsen, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of TextPower, Inc.
For more information or to have a conversation with one of TextPower’s founders about this matter just send us an email.