FCC Says Debt Can’t Stop Portability

Cell phone users who still owe money to their carrier will be allowed to transfer their telephone numbers under the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) local number portability (LNP) rules. The FCC has set a Nov. 24 deadline mobile carriers to implement the LNP system that allows users to switch carriers but still retain their cell phone numbers.

With the recent exception of Verizon, mobile carriers have been opposing the Nov. 24 deadline, claiming unclear rules and cost. The carriers also claim 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.

In 1996, the FCC mandated that wireless carriers let businesses and consumers keep their numbers when changing companies in the top 100 U.S. cities by June 1999. The agency gave the carriers an extension on that deadline, setting a new one for late in 2002. In July of last year, the FCC extended the deadline for another 12 months.

In addition, the wireless carriers, led by Verizon, filed a lawsuit that questioned the FCC’s authority to implement the LNP rules. In June, the court ruled in favor of the FCC.

After that court decision, Verizon dropped its opposition to LNP and said it would comply with the Nov. 24 deadline.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alas.) has also filed legislation designed to delay the implementation of the LNP rules.

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