Portability problems? Take a number

The FCC says it's received around 4,750 gripes from cell phone customers frustrated by the slow pace of switching carriers.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
Federal regulators said they've received around 4,750 complaints from consumers who are frustrated by the slow pace of switching carriers and keeping their old phone number.

The Federal Communications Commission said in a statement Wednesday that it continues to evaluate the gripes to determine "what, if any," violations of FCC policies have occurred. Nearly all of the complaints concerned how long it took--an average of three to five days--to complete the number-switching process.

Ninety-five percent of the complaints were directed at cell phone providers. AT&T Wireless led the list, with 2,300. Sprint PCS had 1,120 complaints; Verizon Wireless had 739; Cingular Wireless had 700; T-Mobile USA had 625; and Nextel Communications had 332. About 5 percent of the complaints involved landline phone providers. Qwest Communications International and Alltel together received 314 complaints, the FCC said.

As of the end of November, U.S. cell phone providers have been required to let a defecting customer keep his or her old phone number, the result of an FCC mandate.

From the start, the automated systems that carriers use to make the swaps have performed abysmally. After nearly two months of work to resolve the issues, carriers say they continue to have problems with the intricate digital pathways that connect their billing centers to the intercarrier clearinghouses that exchange the telephone numbers.

While the FCC did not single out any one carrier, David Furth, FCC associate wireless bureau chief, said the commission has been scrutinizing AT&T Wireless more than other carriers. At the height of AT&T Wireless' woes, more than 60 percent of the telephone numbers it was trying to hand off to other carriers had problems. That's much higher than other carriers.

An AT&T representative said the software problems the carrier experienced in November and December generated most of the complaints. The issues have been resolved, and the carrier now takes less than 30 minutes to respond to about 95 percent of all the telephone number-porting requests its subscribers are making, the representative said.