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FCC Unlikely to Extend Wireless LNP Deadline

NEW YORK -- Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Kathy Abernathy has poured cold water on the hot hopes of wireless carriers for yet another delay in implementing Local Number Portability (LNP).

Speaking at the Global Wireless Summit here Thursday, Abernathy said it was "wishful thinking" on the part of wireless carriers to expect an eleventh hour delay in implementing portability, which would allow cell phone customers to keep their numbers when they change carriers.

"I do not see a groundswell of support for another delay," said Abernathy, who said she favored a lengthy delay last July when the deadline was extended until November this year.

Abernathy, who was sworn in as an FCC Commissioner in May 2001, agreed that local number portability was "very expensive" for wireless carriers to implement, noting that the lack of demand in the wireline sector was making it a non-issue.

"How many of you in this room really want your wireless number as your main number? I certainly don't because my main number is listed," she declared.

The oft-delayed LNP decision deals with a request from Verizon Wireless to eliminate number portability entirely as a requirement for wireless companies. Most cell phone providers, including Cingular, Sprint PCS and AT&T Wireless supported Verizon Wireless' position, claiming the cost of such a program is expensive and that the inability to keep cell phone numbers when changing carriers is not inhibiting competition or growth in the sector.

The wireless industry estimates that implementing portable numbers will cost more than $1 billion in the first year and $500 million each year after that, a position endorsed by Commissioner Abernathy, who agreed it would a "very expensive" undertaking.

The FCC is in favor of keeping the cell phone number portability requirement in the law but the commissioners remain divided as to how long to delay its implementation, which dates back to the original 1996 FCC order.

That 1996 order mandated that wireless carriers let businesses and consumers keep their numbers when changing companies in the top 100 U.S. cities by June 1999. But, that June deadline was extended a few times, including the latest to November this year.

During her keynote address, Abernathy outlined the scope of the FCC's work in the area of wireless spectrum, arguing that the commission must "change its focus" to be stricter with enforcement.

"With increased competition, there are many players entering the market and there are many opportunities for mischief. There are many companies in the business that have no respect for consumers. That's why we have to really give strength to enforcement for all parties," Abernathy declared.

She said the FCC's decision to create secondary markets for wireless spectrum was aimed at increasing competition but warned that the rights of consumers must be maintained. "We have to make sure the interference rules are being followed and the rights of consumers are being kept. Competition won't benefit consumers if they can't navigate the market and get a better deal," Abernathy said.