FCC Clarifies Porting Process

The FCC has made it clear that issues should not stop cell phone customers who want to switch carriers but keep their phone numbers.

The Federal Communications Commission has made it clear that delinquent accounts and safety issues should not stop cell phone customers who want to switch carriers but keep their phone numbers.

"Today, consumers who wish to change service providers may request service from a new carrier at any time regardless of their standing with their old provider," said John Muleta, chief of the wireless telecommunications bureau at the FCC, in a July 3 letter to Verizon Wireless Inc. and the CTIA. "Consumers must have the same freedom to change carriers in a number portability environment."

In essence, carriers cannot refuse to port a customers phone number to another carrier while attempting to collect delinquent fees from that customer, Muleta said.

Muleta also addressed how portability will affect Enhanced 911, another FCC mandate requiring that carriers be able to trace cell phone emergency calls via location-based technology. Because it takes at least hours to port a number from one carrier to another, the CTIA has proposed a "mixed-service" solution, in which a customer essentially has the same phone number with two carriers until the carriers complete the porting process. Muleta said that during a mixed-service period, a carriers obligations will include only delivering the 911 call, not tracing it.

The letter followed written concerns from Verizon that its competitors might make the porting process difficult.

Verizon, of Bedminster, N.J., once opposed the FCC cell phone portability mandate, which is to be implemented Nov. 24. But last month, the company acquiesced—announcing that while customers who break their contracts will be liable for early-termination fees, Verizon will not charge number-porting fees to those customers nor will it charge new customers who want to keep their old numbers.

Cell phone customers continue to applaud the portability mandate for the same reason that some carriers dread it. "I know an increasing number of people like myself who only have a cell phone and not a land line, and being able to keep the same number as you switch phones and providers is key to remaining in contact with people," said Vincent Bray, strategic research manager at Toyota Motor Corp.s Financial Services division, in Torrance, Calif.