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Switch carrier, keep number

Switch carrier, keep number

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Last month, Brandy Black tried to buy a second cell phone and add her fiancé to her service plan.

When the phone company nixed that idea, Black canceled her service and took her business to Alltel. She bought a telephone for her fiancé, a new phone for herself — and she took her old phone number with her.

“I’ve had that phone number for about four years,” said Black, who lives in Greensboro. “In the past year, I’ve actually moved, and that’s the only number people know to get in contact with me.”

Today, cell phone subscribers across the nation will be able to do what Black did: switch carriers without losing their phone number.

The FCC has mandated that all mobile phone companies offer “wireless local number portability,” to their customers. Simply, that rule allows cell phone subscribers to keep their phone number when they switch to a new provider in the same coverage area. People also can have a land-line home telephone number transferred to a mobile phone.

Six months ago, carriers in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, including Greensboro and High Point, had to comply with the FCC porting rule.

Today, carriers in smaller, rural markets have to offer the same opportunity to their customers. In the Piedmont Triad, the rule goes into effect today in Rockingham, Montgomery, Moore and Caswell counties.

Here’s how portability is supposed to work: A customer, such as Black, decides she wants to change to a new phone provider. The customer checks her contractual obligations with her existing carrier to make sure there will be no penalties for switching.

Then, she should take the still-active phone and a recent bill to the new carrier. That provider will deal with the customer’s current cell phone company to transfer the number. The switch could take a few hours to a few days, depending on the phone companies involved.

Since November, fewer than 3 million of the 162 million cell phone users nationwide have transferred their numbers, said Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Of those 3 million, 5 percent, or about 150,000 people, have transferred their home phone number to a cell phone.

But there’s some evidence that land line to cell phone porting rates might be higher in rural communities where customers pay higher usage and toll rates, Larson said.

In November, six months before the FCC required it to do so, First Cellular of Southern Illinois began allowing new customers to port their numbers.

There, 24 percent of number transfers were from land-line phones to wireless phones, Larson said.

“Wireless phones offer much more competitive rates,” he said.

Though some consumers have encountered lengthy delays when transferring their numbers, the porting process is usually smooth and quick with no interruption in phone service.

“There were some early problems with the electronic porting system,” Larson said. “Those have largely been worked out for consumers porting between two major wireless carriers, it should only take two hours.”

Rural customers may have a longer wait if they’re not porting between major carriers. Smaller carriers will be processing number transfers manually — by phone, fax or e-mail — rather than using a computerized system.

“For consumers whose port involves either a wireline carrier or a small wireless carrier, the port could take up to a few days,” Larson said.

Contact Amy Joyner at

373-7075 or ajoyner@

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