Portable Cell Phone Numbers

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put into effect a regulation that would allow cell phone customers to keep their cell phone number when switching from carrier to carrier. Verizon Wireless recently fought that regulation in court and lost.

The phone company told courts that it would cost 1 billion dollars to upgrade existing infrastructure to support portable cell phone numbers. It argued that since several million customers switch carriers every month, portability in cell phone numbers is not necessary.

The federal appeals court nevertheless ruled that a lack of number portability was a deterrent to switching carriers. It gave the cell phone carriers until Nov. 24 to make customer phone numbers portable from one carrier to another.

For its part, the FCC said that number portability would make cell phone service more of a commodity item, driving down the price. They argued that it would force cell carriers to compete in other areas, such as customer service and network availably, instead of relying on vendor lock-in.

The phone companies have already succeeded in delaying number portability three times. Though Verizon Wireless does not intend to appeal the court's decision, they are lobbying Congress intensely for another reprieve.

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