- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Cell-phone customers are no longer on hold.

After years of delay, new rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission took effect yesterday, allowing consumers to switch cell-phone carriers while keeping their phone numbers.

Fewer than 1 million people probably switched cell-phone companies yesterday, said Ed Evans, chief executive officer of TSI Telecommunications Services Inc., a Florida company that helps move consumers from one carrier to another.

“We’ve been monitoring the volume all day, and I’ll say it will probably be at the low end of the estimates. It will be in the hundreds of thousands, not in the millions,” he said.

Most of the nation’s leading cell-phone companies said consumers had only moderate interest yesterday in dumping their current wireless provider for a new one. But they expect more people to switch carriers as the busy holiday shopping season begins Friday.

“So far activity is light, which is not surprising given that we’re just a few hours into the process. We were prepared for anything,” said Mark Siegel, spokesman for AT&T; Wireless, the nation’s third-largest cell-phone company with 21.8 million subscribers.

The Yankee Group, a technology research firm, expects 10 million to 12 million of the nation’s 152 million cell-phone subscribers to choose a new carrier in the next year. About 40 million cell-phone subscribers already switch carriers each year in search of better deals, better customer service and better reception.

The new regulations also let consumers transfer a land-line phone number to a cell phone, a move local phone service providers tried to prevent Friday when they asked a court to block the rule.

An appeals court is scheduled to hold a hearing on the appeal.

Verizon Wireless spokesman John Johnson said about half of the customers in its Washington-area stores yesterday asked about canceling service with other cell-phone carriers.

Industry analysts said Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA Inc., formerly VoiceStream Wireless, appeared to gain the most new subscribers yesterday.

The FCC has said cell-phone companies should switch consumers to their new carrier within 2 hours.

One glitch that surfaced yesterday occurred at AT&T; Wireless, which told some new subscribers who wanted to sign up with the company that it may not be able to complete the conversion for up to three days.

Cell-phone carriers are aggressively marketing services to attract new customers.

Yesterday AT&T; Wireless began two marketing initiatives. Under the terms of one plan, the company will give subscribers a new phone each year when they sign a two-year service agreement.

Cell-phone companies routinely declined to disclose how many subscribers they gained or lost. None knew what to expect on the first day when disgruntled consumers could dump them and search for better deals.

“I think we’re all in the same boat. This is the big unknown,” said Chris Doherty, spokesman for Nextel Communications, the Reston cell-phone company that is the fifth-largest carrier with 12.3 million subscribers.

The FCC extended the opportunity to switch cell-phone providers to the top 100 metropolitan areas first. Consumers in the rest country will be able to switch carriers in May.

“No longer are consumers constrained by artificial barriers when [switching] their telephone numbers between wireless providers or wireless and wire-line providers,” FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide