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Consumer Reports

How to make transferring your conventional phone numbers to cells easier | (KRT) Next Monday, millions of Americans will get to switch their land line phones to wireless carriers while keeping their home phone numbers. They'll also get to switch wireless carriers and keep their numbers.

It'll go pretty smoothly, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said Tuesday. Any disruptions, he added, would be "modest, minor and very temporary."

To help service-switchers minimize what Powell called "hiccups," here are answers to some often-asked questions:

Q. What are the new options?

A. You now can change cell phone carriers within the same geographic area while keeping your phone number. You also can "cut the cord" and transfer your land line phone number to your wireless carrier.

Q. Can anyone do it?

A. Only the 100 biggest metropolitan areas get to switch services and keep their old numbers starting Monday. (Columbia, S.C., Vallejo, Calif., and Fort Wayne, Ind., are tied for 100.) The rest of the country can switch no later than May 24, 2004.

Q. How long will the switch take?

A. For a wireless-to-wireless transfer, maybe two and a half hours. Moving a phone number from land line to cell may take several days. Always ask your new service provider how long it will take.

Q. Will I be without service while the switch is under way?

A. No - as long as you don't drop your old service before you get a new one. Your new provider will deactivate your old account once everything is properly transferred.

Q. If I transfer my number from a land line to a wireless phone, will my long-distance carrier come with me?

A. No. Your new wireless carrier generally will provide your long-distance service.

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Q. Will I be penalized for switching to another wireless provider?

A. It'll cost you some money if your current contract has an early termination fee. Many wireless providers offered deep discounts in exchange for long-term contracts, so bailing out early could be expensive. Ask your current carrier what fees apply.

Q. How do I get the best deal?

A. Carefully compare the rates and coverage that carriers in your area offer. Different companies offer different packages with different services and technologies.

Q. Anything special to watch for?

A. Even though you can take your number with you, you may not be able to take your old phone. Know whether your new carrier will require a new phone, and what you'll have to pay for it.

Q. Once I know where I want to switch, what's next?

A. Contact that provider, and it will begin the change-over process. To ease the way, take along a recent wireless bill, which will have your name and address as they appear in your current provider's database.

Q. What's the downside to cutting the cord and going completely wireless?

A. Cell phone service is still sketchy in some parts of the country, especially when it comes to emergency services. In some areas, 911 operators receive phone numbers or locations automatically only from land lines, so a 911 operator may not be able to find you if you're calling from a cell phone. A 911 operator also may not be able to call you back. Ask your new provider how the system handles 911 calls.

Q. What do I do if my carrier refuses to switch?

A. Complain to the FCC by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (225-5322). Once your new provider makes a request to switch your account to its service, your current provider cannot refuse to switch your number.

Q. How can I get more information?

A. Visit Read ads carefully. Phone local carriers.

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services