- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003


A trade group representing local telephone companies sued yesterday to block a new rule that will allow customers to transfer their land-line number to a cell phone.

The United States Telecom Association said the rule, which takes effect Monday for people living in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, gives an unfair boost to the wireless industry. The trade group asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for an emergency motion stopping the rule.

The court had announced no decision by last night.

In an effort to spur competition and lower prices, the Federal Communications Commission approved rules allowing cellular customers to keep their number when they switch providers and for land-line customers to keep their number if they switch to all-cellular service.

Local phone companies are upset because a customer wishing to transfer a number from a cell phone to a land-line phone can do that only if the exchange — the three digits following the area code — falls within the same geographic area, known as a “rate center,” in which the house or business is located.

BellSouth Corp. has estimated that the rules will allow local phone companies to go after only about one-eighth of cell-phone customers, while the wireless industry faces no similar restrictions.

The rule for switching cell-phone providers, which also takes effect Monday, would not be affected by the lawsuit.

“We know that the future involves consumers having the ability to take their phone numbers with them across competing platforms, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it,” said the telecommunications association’s president, Walter B. McCormick Jr. “All we ask is that the FCC take the time to develop a platform-neutral approach that leaves the choice to consumers and gives all companies an equal shot at competing for their business.”

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said this week that the agency would “defend any lawsuit effectively and vigorously.”

The head of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the trade group representing wireless companies, urged the appeals court to reject the request.

“Allowing this desperate attempt at delay will only confuse consumers and serve to limit competition,” said Steve Largent, the association’s president and a former Oklahoma Republican congressman.

There is no rule for how quickly landlines must be switched to cell phones and vice versa. Companies say it probably will take about four days.

Cell phone customers who want to switch wireless companies could have new service as quickly as 21/2 hours after the new carrier has contacted the old provider. The transfer will take longer if more than one line is involved.

The number-switching rules take effect for people outside the 100 largest metropolitan areas on May 24.

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