In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), whose district was impacted by the Atlas and Tubbs fires in October 2017 and the Mendocino Complex fires in August 2018, introduced this bill to allow residents who lost their homes to natural disasters to retain their phone numbers at no cost to them during the rebuilding process:
“Survivors of natural disasters deserve to know that the Federal government is doing everything possible to assist them during the recovery process. Preserving landline phone numbers during the rebuilding process is one piece of normalcy that we help offer our constituents who have suffered these terrible disasters. After the October 2017 wildfires, I heard from constituents whose homes were destroyed and wanted to preserve the phone numbers that had been theirs for decades. I am proud to have this legislative solution for them and other survivors like them and will continue working to bring every federal dollar and resource to bear for my constituents and all survivors as they work to rebuild.”
After this bill’s passage by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on September 10, 2020, Rep. Thompson said:
“Right now, our district and our state are facing wildfires on an unprecedented scale. California fire survivors and survivors of any natural disaster deserve every source of peace of mind we can provide, including being able to keep their phone numbers while they rebuild. Unfortunately, under current law, phone companies can’t let survivors do this. That’s why today I was proud to see the full Energy and Commerce Committee pass my bill to solve this problem and let survivors, like those recovering from the LNU Lightning Complex fires in my district, keep their phone numbers while they rebuild their homes. I am so grateful to the committee for clearing this vital legislation and will keep working to get this bill passed on the House floor.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) added that this bill is particularly urgent given this year’s destructive wildfire season:
“Thousands of Californians have had their homes destroyed during this horrific wildfire season, including nearly 1,000 families in my Congressional District. Under the PHONE Act, those who suffer the catastrophe of losing their homes won’t also suffer the loss of their home phone number. I’m proud to have partnered with Rep. Thompson to garner support for this highly important bill that was adopted by the Energy and Commerce Committee on a bipartisan basis.”
Lead Republican cosponsor Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), whose district was impacted by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, adds:
“The PHONE Act is common sense bipartisan legislation and will ensure that as victims of natural disasters go through the long and painful process of rebuilding following loss of property, they will have one less burden to bear. The most recent hurricanes that left portions of Florida severely damaged are a stark reminder of the need to find every way possible to assist these victims.”
This legislation passed the House Committee on Energy and Commerce by voice vote with the support of 36 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 23 Democrats and 13 Republicans.
Of Note: “Phone number reassignment” is the reassignment of a phone number to a new person after a number has been deactivated or disconnected. Typically, this happens around 90 days after the number’s deactivation or disconnection; but it can be faster in high-demand area codes. Recent news reports have shown that reassignment of phone numbers can lead to increased risks for account integrity, and can lead to people getting locked out of account notifications, security codes, password resets, and other messages and alerts that aren’t reaching the right end user.
Immediately after disasters, landline phones can be a critical resource for staying in touch when mobile networks are overwhelmed, as happened in Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings, or taken out by natural disasters, as happened in some areas during Hurricane Harvey. Unlike cell phones, which need to be charged, or wireless landline handsets, traditional corded landline phones will work even without power — a potentially significant advantage during natural disasters.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: Unsplash / Sam Loyd)