• United States

FCC orders wired-to-wireless number portability

Nov 11, 20034 mins
GovernmentNetwork SecurityRegulation

The Federal Communications Commission Monday issued an order that will allow users to port their landline telephone numbers to their wireless phone on Nov. 24.

The FCC’s order provides guidance to service providers on “intermodal” porting of phone numbers. In most cases, wireline carriers operating in the 100 largest metropolitan areas have to support intermodal number porting. The only exception will be if the carriers can demonstrate that it is not technically feasible to comply with the requirements.

Those operating outside the largest metropolitan areas will not have to comply until May 24, 2004.

The Management Network Group (TMNG) estimates that traditional local and long-distance voice service providers may lose up to $14 billion in annual revenue after wireline-to-wireless porting goes into effect. Those that stand to lose the most are providers, such as MCI, that do not have wireless service offerings of their own.

Consulting firm TMNG estimates about 19 million users will switch providers. With the average monthly phone bill totaling about $60, that puts $14 billion into play. As analysts have said about wireless-to-wireless porting, customer churn will rise and there will be service providers that benefit and those that do not.

BellSouth said it supports number portability, but feels yesterday’s ruling – coming only two weeks before it takes effect – didn’t allow for enough industry input to sidestep any potentially unfair competitive practices that may result from it. BellSouth, along with SBC, operates Cingular Wireless.

“While we support number portability between types of telephone services, and we agree that consumers can benefit from this arrangement, we must oppose the lack of appropriate comment opportunity and the lack of competitive neutrality,” the carrier said in a statement.

“These new rules say our wireless competitors can take our customers even though the technology does not allow us to offer the same benefit of number portability to the vast majority of their customers. The order allows our competitors to offer number portability in situations where BellSouth, because of regulatory and technology differences, is unable to offer it.”

Qwest says the ruling will hurt customers as well as some providers, and is exploring “legal options” in order to address its “irreparable harm.”

“Unfortunately, over the long-term, customers stand to be the biggest losers with today’s announcement,” says Gary Lytle, Qwest senior vice president, federal affairs. “This is a one-way street that will leave millions of customers stranded without the ability to convert wireless numbers to wireline. Millions of customers prefer the security and quality of a wireline telephone. Additionally, as we’ve seen with recent natural and man-made disasters, a traditional wireline number is invaluable. Qwest supports wireless to wireline number portability, but once again the Federal Communications Commission is creating a regulatory scheme that picks winners and losers. Qwest supports true customer choice, which means the ability to take their telephone numbers with them to either a wireless or wireline option. This mandate will create irreparable harm to customer choice and the industry as a whole.”

Several wireless service providers, primarily those that are affiliated with a wireline service provider such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS, have been testing wireline to wireless porting.

Currently, when a consumer or enterprise switches wireless carriers or unplugs their wireline phones in favor of cellular services, they face the prospect of losing their current phone number and potentially losing touch with contacts built up over years. Number portability is intended to help solve that problem.

The Monday order said wireline carriers will be required to port phone numbers to wireless operators where the cell operator’s coverage area overlaps the geographic location in which the wireline number is provisioned. Also in the order, the FCC sought comments on some aspects of implementing number porting.

The agency did not set a mandatory length of time it should take to port a number from a wireline to a wireless phone. It is seeking comment on the issue.

An earlier order, issued Oct. 7, addressed similar concerns in relation to wireless-to-wireless number porting. Wireless service providers are also required to support wireless-to-wireless porting on Nov. 24 in the 100 largest metro areas.