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FCC rule could drive switch to wireless

A new rule that would allow people to keep their landline phone numbers if they move to wireless services could spur a sizable transition across U.S. households, a report says.

A new rule that would allow people to keep their landline phone numbers if they move to wireless services could spur a sizable transition across U.S. households, according to a new study.

Nearly 50 percent of American residential consumers would consider swapping their traditional landline services for wireless plans if they were allowed to keep their existing phone numbers, and if the prices were right, according to a survey published by researchers PriMetrica and consultants Ernst & Young.

The survey indicated that consumers would be most likely to switch to wireless if they were offered family plans featuring 600 shared minutes at any time of the day at a rate of $50 per month. The study polled 700 U.S. households during the first quarter of 2003.

The Federal Communications Commission's local number portability mandate goes into effect Nov. 24, creating stiff penalties for phone service providers that deny defecting customers the right take their old phone numbers with them.

After prolonged deliberations, the nation's top six wireless carriers have effectively thrown in the towel regarding the directive and have begun preparing to deal with its consequences. Studies have shown that consumers are reluctant to switch wireless plans in part because they don't want to change phone numbers. The also applies to consumers who want to transfer landline numbers to wireless, as well as movement between different wireless carriers or plans.

PriMetrica analysts suggested that quality of service might no longer be a barrier to people switching from a landline to a wireless service. According to the poll, consumers who were willing to give up their landline for wireless were equally happy with their phone company as were consumers who weren't willing to switch.

"The practical implication of these findings is that once households are free to take their (landline) phone numbers with them, perceived quality of service may not be a barrier to their cutting the cord," Dr. Kevin Duffy-Deno, director of analytical services at PriMetrica, said in a statement.

Some telecommunications industry watchers have predicted the FCC mandate will touch off a landslide of activity among consumers as the so-called annoyance tax of losing one's phone number is eliminated from the process of swapping carriers.

Many of those observers have speculated that the greatest number of customer defections would occur among wireless users hunting for better rates and services. But the PriMetrica research would seem to debunk the theory that most U.S. consumers remain unwilling to give up landline phones for wireless replacements.

Earlier research has found that less than 5 percent of consumers would drop their landline phones completely and use only a cell phone.

CNET's Ben Charny contributed to this report.