FCC Shortens Time To 'Port' Numbers

corded phoneSwitching phone service is about to get a little easier. The Federal Communications Commission has shortened the period required to "port" the same landline number from one service provider to another from four business days to one.

The new rule -- which applies to landline, wireless and certain VoIP carriers -- has long been sought by the cable industry, wireless operators and lawmakers, who have argued that the delay impedes competitors that are trying to win customers from the large incumbent telecom companies.

Cable giant Comcast applauded the FCC order in a statement Wednesday. "This is a pro-consumer and pro-competitive action that Comcast has actively supported," said Catherine Avgiris, senior vice president and general manager, voice services for Comcast Cable.

In a separate statement, Acting FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps pointed out that the wireless industry has adopted a mere 2.5-hour standard for porting wireless numbers, reducing the opportunity for competitive "mischief." "Thus, the Commission was compelled to implement a mandatory interval so that consumers of all voice services can realize the true benefits intended by local number portability," he wrote.

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Pressured by a dismal economy, consumers are already trading traditional landline service for wireless phones or digital cable packages combining TV, Internet and phone service to save money. Consumer wireline revenue for AT&T and Verizon Communications, for instance, fell 5.4% and 3.8%, respectively, in the first quarter even as wireless revenue grew.

Verizon this week agreed to sell its local phone businesses in 14 states for $8.6 billion to Frontier Communications as it increasingly shifts focus to its higher-growth wireless and FiOS broadband services. A Verizon spokesman Thursday said the company planned to comply with the FCC's new order on number portability.

It could still be more than a year before consumers benefit from the one-day switching rule. Carriers have nine months to implement the order from the time the FCC receives input on the decision from the North American Numbering Council (NANC). That feedback is due 90 days after the effective date of the order, which will be sometime in the next two weeks.

Small carriers -- those with less than 2% of the nation's phone lines -- will have 15 months to comply after the NANC recommendation.

In a separate order, the FCC is also now requiring interconnected VoIP providers -- those that handle calls over the public telephone network rather than solely over the Internet -- to notify customers before they discontinue or change service. "Interconnected VoIP providers can no longer close shop without notice, leaving customers unexpectedly without phone service or recourse," the agency stated.

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