By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
If you're ditching your home phone to go wireless only, your local
phone company has your number.
The problem, Sprint Nextel (S) and T-Mobile (DT) say, is the local
phone giants don't want to give that number up.
In a recent petition to the Federal Communications Commission, the two
cellphone carriers say local phone companies are making it difficult
for consumers to transfer land-line numbers to wireless phones. And
they say that's dissuading many people from using mobile phones
About 10% of U.S. households have no land-line phone, a figure that's
been rising 1 to 3 percentage points a year, Yankee Group says. Many
are single, lower-income and young — 67% of cord-cutters are under
35, Yankee Group says.
Industry analysts had expected the practice to become more widespread
after the FCC in 2003 forced phone companies to let customers transfer
home numbers to their cellphones. The FCC also allowed consumers to
take their numbers with them when they switch wireless carriers. But
the cord-cutting contingent has grown slowly, largely because of the
number-switching hassles, says Ovum analyst Roger Entner.
T-Mobile and Sprint say local phone companies make them provide dozens
of arcane bits of information on complex forms. If anything is
slightly awry, the form is rejected.
Number transfers typically take a week to 10 days but can drag on for
weeks or, in rare cases, months, they say. About 30% of customers give
up, and many keep their home phone service. Wireless carriers lose a
customer or the extra calling revenue they would have gotten if the
subscriber had dropped home service.
"Customers get frustrated, and we lose customers," says Sara Leibman,
federal regulatory-affairs director for T-Mobile.
In contrast, numbers are generally transferred between cellphone
providers within 2 or 3 hours, T-Mobile and Sprint say. They suggest
the red tape is designed to help the local companies retain customers,
and they want the FCC to streamline the process.
AT&T spokeswoman Claudia Jones says the local phone giant believes
"consumers are entitled to change service providers in a reasonable
time frame." Verizon and Qwest say they meet industry
standards. Verizon's David Fish says the company has pared the
information required on the forms.
FCC rules theoretically require transfers to be done in four days, but
a form with errors can cause indefinite delays.
Entner says Verizon Wireless (VZ) and Cingular face similar holdups
but haven't complained as they're mostly or wholly owned by Verizon
and AT&T, respectively. Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debra Lewis says
the transfers are "not an issue." Cingular, whose name changes to AT&T
today, referred questions to AT&T's Jones.
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