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AT&T Wireless to explain portability woes

The carrier is set to tell federal regulators that it has addressed software problems that kept people waiting weeks to switch carriers while keeping their old phone number.

AT&T Wireless will tell federal regulators Wednesday that it's solved some software problems that kept former subscribers waiting weeks to get an old telephone number transferred to their new telephone service provider.

Responding to numerous customer complaints, the Federal Communications Commission asked the carrier last week to explain why it was having significant difficulties meeting the recently enacted local number portability rule.

All U.S. carriers were having problems with automated systems they installed to ensure that defecting customers got to keep their old phone number. The FCC said Tuesday that it's so far received 600 consumer complaints about the plodding pace of number portability. More than half, or about 322, were targeted at AT&T Wireless. Verizon Wireless had the second-highest number of complaints, 129.

The culprit for some of the AT&T Wireless problems was software the subcontractor AT&T hired used to do the behind-the-scenes work involved in ensuring that subscribers kept their old phone number after switching to rival carriers, according to a preview of the carrier's FCC response, made available Tuesday.

The subcontractor's software was taking much longer than anticipated--between 30 minutes and "many, many hours"--to process the requests, AT&T Wireless spokesman Mark Siegel said. The exact nature of the technical problems will be in a letter the carrier will provide the FCC on Wednesday.

The software problems are now rectified, and AT&T Wireless takes less than 30 minutes to respond to about 95 percent of all the telephone number-porting requests its subscribers are making, Siegel said. At the height of AT&T Wireless' woes, it was experiencing problems with more than 60 percent of the telephone numbers it was trying to hand off to other carriers.