The Local Number Portability Hype Didn't Match Reality

Initial interest in porting telephone numbers didn't match the hype surrounding the Federal Communications Commission's recent mandate. Monday was the first day that telephone customers could switch carriers, but still keep their existing phone numbers. The long-awaited rule change set off a marketing blitz by cell phone companies, fearful of losing their customers and eager to snare new ones from rivals. Because just 3 percent of the nation's 152 million cell phone users have cut the cord by turning off their home phones, most of the switching activity was expected to be among rival cellular companies. According to analysts' predictions, tens of millions of wireless and wireline customers were expected to flood retail outlets, recently installed call centers and Web sites over the next several months in an effort to change their phone number to another operator. Some are expected to use the threat of moving to another carrier as leverage to negotiate a better deal from their current providers. Still, the ability to take a wired number to a mobile phone could also spell trouble for land lines, since 21 percent of Americans with cell phones say they have "very" or "somewhat" seriously considered canceling a home telephone line since they began using a cell phone, according to a survey released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. However, analysts deemed early switching results lackluster. Wireless industry research firm Mobile Competency reported that fewer than 100,000 people attempted number porting Monday, and of those attempts, carriers reported failures rates of nearly 40 percent. RBC Capital Markets also issued a report stating that the porting samples it obtained from a variety of carriers, none of the porting requests were completed on the first day. Industry watchers say store traffic was up three to four times that of a regular day across all carriers Monday. Carrier-branded retail outlets experienced the most customer traffic early Monday compared with indirect channels that showed little foot traffic. Verizon Wireless and Nextel Communications did well on the first day of number portability, Sprint PCS and T-Mobile USA Inc. were neutral, and AT&T Wireless Services and Cingular Wireless were at the bottom of the pack. Most attribute AT&T's poor showing to system problems that have been plaguing the company for several months. AmTech Research says that sales by carriers slowed noticeably over the last few weeks leading up to number portability. "Activity was moderate and did not seem extremely high, but traffic in channels was high and many consumers appear to be shopping the recent promotions," Albert Lin, an analyst for AmTech Research says. Infrastructure issues may have also slowed porting. According to a request filed in an effort to stay the mandate filed Friday by wireline carrier groups the FCC has assumed the carriers providing service in the top 100 metropolitan service areas have already deployed the hardware and software necessary to support number porting. But that is not the case, according to these groups. That has left many customers waiting for all the porting glitches to be ironed out. Some experts cautioned that switchers shouldn't expect the handoff of phone numbers to take less than three hours, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.
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