- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2003

Some wireless companies have begun charging users a monthly fee to pay for three new government regulations.

Sprint PCS announced this week it will assess a monthly $1.50 fee to all its customers beginning with their next bill to help offset the costs of government regulations.

Of that, $1.10 will cover the cost of number portability and pooling, spokesman Larry McDonnell said. The other 40 cents is for enhanced 911 emergency service, required to be in place in the next several years.

Under new rules from the Federal Communications Commission, wireless carriers must allow customers to keep the same phone number when switching providers starting Nov. 24 if they stay in the same region. The concept is called “portability.”

“Pooling” is a more efficient way of giving out phone numbers to slow the need for new area codes in the biggest U.S. markets. Carriers in the fall were required to meet new regulations for number pooling.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the wireless industry already has put in a large portion of the investment needed to comply with government regulations.

“The overwhelming amount of the expense they have has already been invested,” Mr. Powell said in an interview with reporters and editors at The Washington Times on Monday.

“They have you believe they have to do this in November, that there will be a huge amount of expense. But there is a number-pooling portion we’ve said they have to do already. So a huge part of their expense has occurred and to the extent they are recovering it, they are probably recovering it already.”

Mr. McDonnell said the costs of implementing the technology is the reason Sprint PCS decided to charge a monthly fee.

“We have to recover the costs of implementing. It has been and will be in the tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

The wireless industry has said meeting the new portability regulation would cost $1 billion.

New AT&T Wireless customers as well as those who switch plans in the company began to see a “regulator programs fee” of $1.75 on their bills in early April to cover the costs of number portability, 911 services and number pooling, said Rochelle Cohen, director of media relations for AT&T Wireless.

“We are assessing it to recover the costs of government regulations,” she said. “When we recover the costs, provided we do not have new mandates, the fee will be eliminated.”

Nextel spokeswoman Leigh Horner said her company began charging a federal programs fee of $1.55 in January 2002.

On some of its handsets, the Reston company will use global-positioning-satellite technology to provide information to 911 operators.

“When someone dials 911, if public safety is ready, they will get more specific locations,” she said. “It is not necessarily going to give an address but a latitude and longitude.”

Verizon Wireless President Denny Strigl announced June 24 the wireless operator would not assess an additional fee.

Representatives from T-Mobile were unavailable for comment.

Initially, only customers in the top 100 markets will be able to use local-number portability. Others will be able to switch their numbers one to six months later.

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