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Consumer Reports


Few consumers have moved home numbers to cell phones

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) Defying expectations, American consumers have hung up on the notion of cutting the cord by moving their home telephone number to their cell telephone.

Local phone companies had predicted that hundreds of thousands - possibly even millions - of customers would abandon wired phone service when new federal rules allowing such a switch took effect two weeks ago. But so far, the number who actually have taken the plunge is very small, numbering in the hundreds, SBC Communications Inc. reported Tuesday.

"It's pretty quiet," said Michael Grasso, SBC executive director for consumer marketing. "There've been a couple here and a couple there, but no mass migration."

That's in marked contrast to wireless number portability, where consumers take their cell phone number with them when they leave one carrier and get new service from another. Demand has been quite a bit stronger, but with that demand have come problems.

While federal guidelines call for "porting" cell phone numbers in a matter of hours, it's taken days for many customers.

The Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday it has received about 600 complaints, half of them concerning AT&T Wireless. AT&T executives said they've made progress improving their system's performance and said that a relatively light demand for changing numbers has prevented the situation from being worse than it is.

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Industry insiders had predicted technical problems would accompany wireless phone number portability, which was launched Nov. 24, but few expected so little interest among consumers in moving numbers from a wired phone to a wireless one.

"It's incredibly minimal," said Andrea Ayers, vice president with Convergys, a Cincinnati-based firm that handles portability calls for some wireless carriers. "I don't know if consumers are unaware they can do it or what, but we aren't seeing nearly as much as we expected."

Last month when the FCC announced that wireline numbers would be eligible for movement to cell phones at the same time as cell phone numbers could be moved, traditional wireline companies like SBC were livid. Through their trade group, the United States Telecom Association, they went to federal court in an unsuccessful move to block that aspect of number portability.

Traditional phone companies were irked because while it is now possible to move a home phone number to a cell phone, moving a cell phone number to a home phone is difficult or impossible.

When the USTA complained to the FCC about this, the regulators said that while there is consumer demand to move wired numbers to wireless phones, there's no demand to move numbers in the other direction.

Early consumer reaction to their newfound freedom suggests widespread apathy toward the wired to wireline number porting issue.

There has been considerable consumer enthusiasm for taking their cell phone numbers along when they change carriers, but expectations of technical difficulties during the early days of wireless portability may have persuaded many people to wait until next year in hopes that glitches will be resolved by then.

Also, about two-thirds of cell phone customers are under contract to their carrier and must pay hefty fees to leave early. Analysts predict that wireless number porting will build over the next 18 months as contracts expire and customers are free to leave.

Wireless carriers have well established systems in place to exchange phone numbers for number conservation purposes, noted George Hallenbeck, chief of Evolving Systems, a software firm that provides electronic interfaces to wireless carriers.

The new port of number portability, and the area of most technical difficulty, is that first step where one wireless carrier contacts another to confirm information about a customer who wants to move his phone number, Hallenbeck said.

On Tuesday, Michael Keith, AT&T Wireless president of mobility services, said that his firm's response to the first step had performed poorly.

"The software was slow to acknowledge requests from other carriers to move a customer's number to them, which created a bottleneck," Keith said.

Subsequent changes to the software have improved performance, but there is still more room for improvement, he said.

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