TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Moving to VOIP But Keeping Same Phone Number

Moving to VOIP But Keeping Same Phone Number

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Sat, 12 Nov 2005 17:41:35 -0600

PC World

Changing cell phone companies? You can keep your number. Changing
local phone companies? Same deal. Switching over to Internet phone
service? Well ...

Over the last several years, consumers have become accustomed to
retaining control of their phone numbers -- specifically, being able
to transfer them when switching cellular or local landline
services. But the situation is less clear for relatively new
Voice-over-IP services. The Federal Communications Commission has yet
to decide whether and how number portability -- be it to or from a
landline service, a cell phone service, or another VoIP service -- and
other telecom regulations should apply to VoIP.

Meanwhile, some of those consumers who venture into the brave new
world of Internet phone service are discovering that even when no one
challenges their right to hold on to a phone number that they've had
for years, red tape can make implementing a transfer much more
time-consuming than they expected.

Jerry Gerlach, technology director for the town of Biddeford, Maine,
says that while he's happy with his Vonage VoIP service, he was
frustrated that it took more than four months for Vonage to transfer
his phone number of 13 years from his previous VoIP provider, Time
Warner. (Time Warner took only a few hours to get the number from
Gerlach's landline service in 2001.)

Gerlach says that he became "fairly aggressive" after two months,
going so far as to track down a Vonage vice president's e-mail address
and to file an online complaint with the FCC. He says a Vonage
official finally told him the problem was the company's lack of a
number-transfer agreement with Time Warner. (A Vonage spokesperson
said the company doesn't comment on these agreements.)

Why are transfers so problematic? Stand-alone VoIP firms such as
Vonage must partner with traditional landline carriers to give
customers any phone number -- new or existing. To transfer an existing
number, a VoIP company must also possess an interconnection agreement,
which spells out how a transfer will be handled, with the phone
company that has been servicing the number. Then the VoIP company's
landline partner can arrange the transfer.

The customer is usually not even aware of these arrangements, but they can
seriously prolong the transfer process.

Sound complicated? It is. "It's a complex industry," says AT&T
CallVantage spokesperson Gary Morgenstern. Even AT&T, which can offer
its VoIP customers phone numbers from its own huge pool, is limited in
its ability to provide number portability. The company still lacks the
interconnection agreements necessary to transfer cell phone numbers,
Morgenstern says.

The good news is that if the agreements are already in place,
transferring your phone number to VoIP service can be speedy and
smooth. For instance, two other Vonage customers, Dan Bahr of
Bellport, New York, and John Painter of Lewiston, Maine, both say that
their transfers took less than the 20 days Vonage estimated for the
process. However, both men transferred their phone numbers from
Verizon, which has an agreement with Vonage.

If you're thinking of taking the Internet-phone plunge and you want to
retain your current number, you can do a few things to help smooth the
transition. For starters, contact your prospective VoIP service (see
our September review, " Net Phones Grow Up ," for suggestions) and ask
whether it has an agreement with your current phone company. If it
doesn't, you might want to wait until it does -- or shop around for a
different company that has an agreement.

Also, be very careful when filling out any forms: Even making a simple
mistake like transposing two letters in the name of your street could
stop the whole process and force you to start from scratch.

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