Phone Portability and What it Means for You

In the earliest days of the telephone, there was no such thing as a phone number: you simply purchased a separate phone and connection line to call each person you wanted to speak with. Later in the 19th century, switchboards and telephone networks ushered in the concept of a dedicated number.

Today, by comparison, there are an estimated 700-800 million phone numbers in use in the United States alone – more than two numbers for every man, woman and child living here. Roughly a third of these are mobile phones, and more than 99 percent of people age 18-29 use a personal cell phone. Perhaps most importantly, these numbers change frequently: over 100,000 wireless numbers alone are reassigned each and every day, and both business and personal numbers change frequently with things like moves, job changes and turnover.

So what does this mean for your telephone contact data? First, it means that the number you call today may have a different owner – or service provider – tomorrow. Second, it raises the serious issue of compliance risk. Both of these issues can have real financial consequences for your business.

In this article, we will take a look at some of the ways that phone portability can affect you – and more importantly, what you can do about it.

What kinds of portability are there?

There are many reasons why you need to validate your contact phone numbers, both at the time of data entry and at the time of use. Here are some of the major ones:

Device portability. This is where someone transfers their number to another type of telephone equipment, with the same or a different service provider – for example, transferring their home number from a landline to a mobile phone.

Why is device portability important? After all, doesn’t this number still belong to the same owner who opted in with you? It matters because in cases such as landline numbers being transferred to mobile phones, this may incur costs to the owner for things like incoming calls and text messages. Without fresh permissions, you are just a consumer complaint away from running afoul of the US Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), with stiff penalties for unwanted contact to mobile phones.

Service provider portability. Once upon a time, your phone number didn’t really belong to you: if you moved or changed service providers, you had to get a new one. In the US, this changed through Federal legislation that, as of 2003, allowed most consumers to take their phone numbers with them (with a few exceptions such as specific rural areas, or moving to another geographic region), and the same is true for many countries worldwide.

Why is service provider portability important? Because switching from one carrier to another may also result in increased costs for receiving marketing messages, again underscoring the importance of getting these clients to opt-in again before contacting them.

Reassignment to a new owner. Phone numbers aren’t like Social Security numbers – they can be reassigned to new people, and can have many different owners over time. People give up their old numbers for a variety of reasons: they move to a new state, drop their landline to save money, take over a mobile number from a family member, and more. Service providers typically “age” surrendered numbers for at least a 90-day period, and then release them for reassignment to new owners.

You clearly need to be aware of transfers such as these, and remove these numbers from your contact list. Unsolicited marketing to new owners of phone numbers is almost guaranteed to trigger consumer complaints and possible TCPA compliance actions.

How to protect yourself

There are clear risks nowadays from contacting phone numbers that may have been ported. Chief among them are the potential for compliance penalties from TCPA or other data privacy laws. Some well-known firms have been hit with multi-million dollar TCPA fines for making unwanted marketing contacts, with penalties in one case reaching nearly a billion US dollars – and worse, there is no longer an FCC “safe harbor” for making even one such call accidentally.

Beyond the obvious legal risks, unwanted telephone marketing contacts can also impact your brand reputation and customer image in the marketplace. We live in an era where consumers are less tolerant than ever about interruptive marketing, and having an engaged community of customers and prospects who want to hear from you has become an important competitive advantage.

Our DOTS GeoPhone Plus product is designed to protect you from all types of phone portability issues, as well as provide valuable data about your phone contacts. It combines real-time reverse lookup for over 400 million US and Canadian phone numbers with line type, contact information, porting status and dates, flagging of VoIP and prepaid phone numbers for fraud prevention, and more.

With API interfaces to major marketing automation and CRM platforms and industry-leading implementation support, GeoPhone Plus is a smart move for protecting your telephone marketing efforts. Want to learn more? Contact our friendly and knowledgeable technical team to discuss your own specific data quality needs – we’re here to help.